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How to Appeal Rules are Critical!

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As a boutique Canadian law firm practising in a niche area (we focus on Indirect Tax, Customs and International Trade matters) we often get inquiries from small businesses and even travellers seeking to appeal various tax assessments, customs infractions, seizures and the like.

The most basic question we are asked is “how can I appeal this?”.

Appeal Requirements Vary Across Different Enactments

While the better question is “should I appeal this”* the “how can I appeal this” question is also more difficult than meets the eye.

The problem is while there is some commonality to appeal provisions across many federal and provincial tax and customs enforcement acts, most are different. This means that one needs to review the applicable appeal section each and every time, just to advise on when and how appeals must be properly constituted. Most competent professionals usually want to avoid giving even this most basic level of advice without being formally engaged, and creating an official “Solicitor-Client” relationship.

In a recent Federal Court of Appeal case in Prairie Pride Natural Foods, the required “appeal” provision actually contained a rule about sending a “follow-up copy” of the appeal document within 48 hours after the original appeal. (!)   While the appellant in this particular case ended up successful (they had failed to send the follow-up copy, but after a 32 paragraph Reasons for Decision, the Federal Court of Appeal concluded that this was not fatal), this undoubtedly cost the appellant significant time, stress, and legal costs!

The bottom line is that even the most basic of tax or customs appeals have strict requirements for properly constituting the appeal, and “self-help” remedies taken by taxpayers, importers, travellers, and others on the receiving end of these assessments, infraction notices and seizures is not without risk. The Old Adage here is that “you get what you pay for”.

Bottom Line

For taxpayers, importers, travellers, and others on the receiving end of tax assessments, customs infractions and seizures, there is no substitute for competent professional advice, even for something as simple as “how to I appeal this”.

Self-help can often work where the matter is not significant, but where losing is a problem, seek professional advice!

* Determining whether someone should appeal a particular matter is a question that actually takes the time and work of the professional lawyer to determine. It will rarely have a quick answer, or one that can be answered over the phone.   (Think of a medical complaint; you have a pick in your side; it is not like a doctor is going to be able to diagnose you and provide advice over a phone, and it will also unlikely be given after your first visit to the doctor’s office. Rather, the doctor will be required to do what a doctor does: poke, probe, measure, listen, text, requisition blood and other diagnostic testing).

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