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Fairmont: OCA Dismisses Crown’s Appeal in Rectification Case

The Ontario Court of Appeal has dismissed the Crown’s appeal in Fairmont Hotels Inc. v. A.G. (Canada) (2015 ONCA 441).

In Fairmont (2014 ONSC 7302), the taxpayer was successful on an application for rectification of certain corporate transactions (see our previous post here).

On appeal, the Crown argued that the lower court had misapplied the test for rectification because the parties had not determined the specific manner in which their intention to avoid tax would be carried out. In the Crown’s view, the lower court’s judgment sanctioned retroactive tax planning.

The Court of Appeal disagreed:

[8]          In these circumstances, relying on this court’s decision in Juliar, the application judge held that the respondent was entitled to rectify the relevant corporate resolutions to correct the mistaken share redemptions.  This result, the application judge noted, would avoid the imposition of an unintended tax burden that the respondent had sought to avoid from the outset, as well as an unintended tax revenue windfall to the CRA arising from the mistaken share redemptions.

[9]          On the factual findings of the application judge, set out above, and the binding authority of Juliar, we see no basis for intervention with the application judge’s discretionary decision to grant rectification.

[10]       Juliar is a binding decision of this court.  It does not require that the party seeking rectification must have determined the precise mechanics or means by which the party’s settled intention to achieve a specific tax outcome would be realized. Juliar holds, in effect, that the critical requirement for rectification is proof of a continuing specific intention to undertake a transaction or transactions on a particular tax basis.

[11]       In this case, on the application judge’s findings, the respondent had a specific and unwavering intention from the outset of its dealings with Legacy to ensure that the Legacy-related transactions were tax neutral and, to that end, that no redemptions of the relevant preference shares should occur.  Nonetheless, by mistake, the redemptions were authorized by corporate resolutions.

[12]       Contrary to the appellant’s argument, in these circumstances, it was unnecessary that the respondent prove that it had determined to use a specific transactional device – loans – to achieve the intended tax result.  That the respondent mistakenly failed to employ an appropriate transactional device to achieve the intended tax result does not alter the nature of the respondent’s settled tax plan: tax neutrality in its dealings with Legacy and no redemptions of the preference shares in question.

[13]       At the end of the day, therefore, Juliar and the application judge’s factual findings, described above, are dispositive of this appeal.  It is not open to a single panel of this court to depart from a binding decision of this court.

[14]       The appeal is dismissed. …

The Court of Appeal’s decision in Fairmont is an important affirmation of the result and reasoning in Juliar v. A.G. (Canada) ((2000), 50 O.R. (3d) 728 (Ont. C.A.)) (Dentons was counsel for the successful taxpayer).

Recently, the Crown has been aggressively arguing in rectification cases that Juliar was either wrongly decided or should be narrowly applied (two Alberta cases have followed this argument – see, for example, Graymar Equipment (2008) Inc. v A.G. (Canada) (2014 ABQB 154) and Harvest Operations Corp. v. A.G. (Canada) (2015 ABQB 237)).

However, in TCR Holding Corporation v. Ontario (2010 ONCA 233) and Fairmont, the Ontario Court of Appeal has clearly rejected those arguments. This should put an end to the Crown’s arguments about Juliar – at least in Ontario.

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Fairmont: OCA Dismisses Crown’s Appeal in Rectification Case

BP Canada: CRA Entitled to Tax Accrual Working Papers

In BP Canada Energy Company v. Minister of National Revenue (2015 FC 714), the Minister brought an application pursuant to subsection 231.7(1) of the Income Tax Act (Canada) (the “Act”) before the Federal Court of Canada.

The Minister sought a compliance order requiring BP Canada to provide tax accrual working papers prepared by BP Canada’s own employees which were requested by the Canada Revenue Agency (“CRA”) during its audit pursuant to subsection 231.1(1) of the Act.

The Federal Court allowed the application and granted the compliance order.

Background

Under subsection 230(1) of the Act, a taxpayer must keep books and records in such form and containing such information as will enable the taxes payable under the Act to be determined.

Under sections 231.1 to 231.7, the CRA may request and a taxpayer may be required to produce such book and records. Additionally, the CRA has routinely made broad requests for tax accrual working papers.

Taxpayers are generally reluctant to produce tax accrual working papers to tax auditors because these documents could provide a roadmap of the taxpayer’s tax positions, an estimate potential exposure for tax, and an outline the possible assessing position the tax authorities may take. Moreover, these documents are required to be prepared pursuant to securities regulations and accounting standards rather than pursuant to the Act or for the determination of taxes payable.

In “Acquiring Information from Taxpayers, Registrants and Third Parties” the CRA stated that it will follow a policy of restraint in requesting tax accrual working papers during its regular income tax audits – namely, that it would only request them if a proper examination could not be carried out without access to those files.

In BP Canada, the CRA explicitly stated that it sought to obtain BP’s tax accrual working papers to assist the CRA in expediting its audit not only for the years for which the tax accrual working papers were prepared but also for subsequent tax years – thus implying that the documents were not required for the audit but were simply helpful as a matter of convenience for the auditor.

Arguments

BP Canada submitted that tax accrual working papers are subjective opinions regarding tax filing positions and are not required to establish the tax payable under the Act and therefore do not qualify as books and records that are required to be provided to support a tax filing position.

Moreover, BP Canada submitted that, even if the statutory requirements for a compliance order are met, the Federal Court must justify the exercise of its discretion to grant the order.

In this case, BP Canada argued that such discretion could not be justified because it would constitute a compulsory self-audit by the taxpayer and would violate the Minister’s own policy not requiring such documents to be produced.

Decision

In granting the compliance order, the Federal Court found while the Minister may not need the tax accrual working papers to complete an audit, if the Minister wants them, she should have them.  The Federal Court did not accept BP’s “roadmap” argument and put weight on the fact that the tax accrual working papers are already prepared and thus no additional work would be required by the taxpayer.

The Federal Court also stated even though the Act does not require these types of documents be retained, if they are maintained for another reason they can be requested by the Minister.

Finally, the Federal Court relied on the Federal Court of Appeal case Tower v. MNR (2003 FCA 307) in finding that tax accrual working papers do fit within the scope of subsection 231.1(1) which provides that the CRA may request “the books and records of a taxpayer and any document of the taxpayer or of any other person that relates or may relate to the information that is or should be in the books or records of the taxpayer or to any amount payable by the taxpayer under this Act”.

The Federal Court endorsed the Minister’s audit approach in this case, stating that the Minister’s request for tax accrual working papers is not part of a fishing expedition if the Minister knows that she wants a clear roadmap to be used for current and future audits (see para. 38) (we note, however, that the decision does not consider whether a clear sign of a fishing expedition may be a broad request by the CRA for a roadmap of the taxpayer’s tax considerations).

The decision in BP Canada clearly outlines the Federal Court’s opinion that tax accrual working papers should be produced when requested pursuant to section 231.1 of the Act. The decision serves as an important reminder that taxpayers should be cautious in preparing and maintaining tax accrual working papers.

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BP Canada: CRA Entitled to Tax Accrual Working Papers

TCC: Unpaid Dividend Refund Is Not a Refund

A pair of recent Tax Court of Canada judgments highlight the unsustainable position taken by the CRA that a statute-barred dividend refund that cannot be recovered by the taxpayer nonetheless reduces taxpayer’s “refundable dividend tax on hand” (“RDTOH”) balance.

We have written in this space before about the Tax Court’s strict interpretation of the three-year time limitation to receive a dividend refund under subsection 129(1) of the Income Tax Act. A consequence of this limitation is that where a taxpayer has missed the three-year filing deadline to obtain a dividend refund there can be “trapped” RDTOH which will require that the corporation pay a taxable dividend at some point in the future in order receive a dividend refund. The CRA, though, continues to take the position that the original taxable dividend reduces the RDTOH balance even where the dividend refund cannot be paid due to the three-year window being missed.

This issue was recently considered in two cases:  Presidential MSH Corporation v. The Queen (2015 TCC 61) and Nanica Holdings Limited v. The Queen (2015 TCC 85). In both cases, the issue was the same – whether the definition of “dividend refund” in subsection 129(3) refers to an amount that was paid or credited to the corporation or is merely a notional account that is automatically reduced notwithstanding that the corporation did not receive a refund. This latter position had been explicitly rejected by the Tax Court in Tawa Developments Inc. v. The Queen (2011 TCC 440). In Presidential and Nanica, the Tax Court held that an unpaid dividend refund is not a refund at all.

Yet the CRA apparently continues to enforce the Act as though the dividend refund is notional – no amount is required to be paid in order for the corporation to obtain a “dividend refund” and therefore the RDTOH balance is reduced without payment.

Fortunately, the Tax Court takes a more sensible interpretation in the recent decisions.

In Presidential, the Court undertook a textual, contextual and purposive analysis of the dividend refund concept, concluding that a payment was required before the RDTOH balance could be reduced. In rendering his judgement, however, Justice David Graham noted that the relevant provisions lack clarity and urged Parliament to take corrective measures to clear up the language in this area.

In Nanica, which was released after the decision in Presidential, Justice Valerie Miller reached the same conclusion, ultimately agreeing with the earlier decisions that “the phrase ‘dividend refund’ in section 129 is the refund of an amount”. There is no reduction of the RDTOH balance where the corporation does not receive a refund.

In light of these decisions, we hope the CRA will align its assessing position with the clear interpretation of the Tax Court.

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TCC: Unpaid Dividend Refund Is Not a Refund

FCA: TCC Erred in Awarding Costs on Basis of Pre-Appeal Conduct

The Tax Court has in recent years demonstrated a willingness to use cost awards to control the parties’ conduct. This includes awarding lump-sum amounts, which may depart markedly from the “tariff” amounts described in Tariff B of Schedule II of the Tax Court’s General Procedure Rules. Further, the Court has wrestled with the weight – if any – that the parties’ conduct prior to an appeal should carry in respect of a cost award.

In Martin v. The Queen (2013 TCC 38), the taxpayer successfully challenged a section 160 assessment in respect of certain amounts paid to her by her spouse. There was evidence the auditor had deliberately misled the taxpayer during an audit, and the taxpayer had spent considerable time and money enduring the audit and objection process before her ultimate success in the Tax Court.

On the issue of costs, the taxpayer asked for (i) solicitor-client costs, or (ii) a fixed amount under Rule 147, or (iii) the tariff costs. The Crown argued that only tariff costs should be awarded. Describing the case as “very unusual, difficult, and hopefully exceptional, case”, the Tax Court considered the pre-appeal conduct of the CRA (among other factors) and awarded the taxpayer a lump sum amount of $10,635 (2014 TCC 50).

The Tax Court repeated its view that costs may be awarded against the Crown where it pursues a meritless case in the Tax Court:

[21] … There are perhaps some arguments and some cases that the Canada Revenue Agency just should not pursue. The Crown is not a private party. By reassessing a taxpayer and failing to resolve its objection, the Crown is forcing its citizen/taxpayers to take it to Court. If the Crown’s position does not have a reasonable degree of sustainability, and is in fact entirely rejected, it is entirely appropriate that the Crown should be aware it is proceeding subject to the risk of a possibly increased award of costs against it if it is unsuccessful.

The Crown appealed and the taxpayer cross-appealed.

The Federal Court of Appeal noted that a discretionary cost award should only be set aside if the judge made an error in principle or if the award is plainly wrong (see Hamilton v. Open Window Bakery (2004 SCC 9) and Sun Indalex Finance LLC v. United Steelworkers (2013 SCC 6)).

In the Court of Appeal, the Crown alleged that the Tax Court judge had made an error of fact  (i.e., the finding that the CRA auditor had been deceitful in providing incorrect information), and an error of law (i.e., relying on the auditor’s deceitful conduct as a basis for awarding increased costs).

On the first issue, the Court held there was no error of law because the Crown admitted the auditor had engaged in deceitful behavior. On the second issue, the Court noted that conduct that occurs prior to a proceeding may be taken into account if such conduct unduly and unnecessarily prolongs the proceeding (see Merchant v. Canada (2001 FCA 19) and Canada v. Landry (2010 FCA 135)). However, the Court stated that the audit and objection stages are not a “proceeding”, which is defined in section 2 of the Rules as an appeal or reference. Accordingly, the Court stated, “the Judge erred in principle in allowing an amount incurred in respect of costs unrelated to the appeal which were incurred at the objection stage. Those expenses, by definition, were not incurred as part of the appeal ‘proceeding'”.

In respect of the cross-appeal, the Court of Appeal considered whether the lower court had erred in declining to award solicitor-client costs. The Court held there was no error because such costs could not include pre-appeal costs, and even if such costs could be awarded, solicitor-client costs are awarded only where there has been reprehensible, scandalous or outrageous misconduct connected with the litigation (see also Scavuzzo v. The Queen (2006 TCC 90)).

The Court allowed the appeal, dismissed the cross-appeal, set aside the lower court’s cost award and substituted a cost award of $4,800 plus disbursements and taxes (2015 FCA 95).

The Court of Appeal decision in Martin may have failed to address all relevant provisions of Rule 147, which arguably provide for very broad discretion for awarding costs. For example, paragraph 147(3)(j) of the Tax Court Rules states the Court may consider “any other matter relevant to the question of costs”.

The Court of Appeal’s decision also raises an issue regarding the circumstances in which deceitful pre-appeal conduct may unduly or unnecessarily prolong a proceeding – wouldn’t such a hindrance follow in every case of deceitful conduct by a party?

Further, the Court of Appeal appeared particularly concerned that the taxpayer’s pre-appeal expenses could not be addressed in the cost award, but it seems clear that the Tax Court had exercised its discretion to award a lump sum based not only on the quantum of the pre-appeal costs but on the existence of the auditor’s deceitful behavior and the Crown’s obstinate approach and refusal to resolve – at any stage – an uncomplicated tax dispute.

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FCA: TCC Erred in Awarding Costs on Basis of Pre-Appeal Conduct

Loss Determinations: No Time Like the Present

Under subsection 152(1.1) of the Income Tax Act, a taxpayer may apply for a determination of losses for a tax year.

A taxpayer typically requests a loss determination after the CRA has issued a nil assessment. This is because no objection may be filed against a nil assessment, and thus one of the ways to challenge the adjustments underlying the nil assessment (i.e., the adjustments to losses or other tax balances) is to force the issuance of a Notice of Determination/Redetermination of Losses, which then triggers the right to file a Notice of Objection. If the taxpayer does not request a loss determination, the taxpayer may challenge the quantum of the losses in a subsequent year in which the losses are applied.

However, the timing of the loss determination request is an important issue – if the losses cannot be applied until several years after the tax year at issue, this could create uncertainty and additional (and perhaps burdensome) record-keeping requirements for the taxpayer.

This issue was considered in CRA Document No. 2014-0550351C6 (November 18, 2014), in which the CRA was asked whether it would issue a determination of loss to a taxpayer who requests one upon filing of its return (i.e., rather than at the later time when a nil assessment is issued).

Under subsection 152(1.1), where the CRA ascertains the amount of a taxpayer’s non-capital loss or net capital loss (or certain other losses), and the taxpayer has not reported that amount on the taxpayer’s return, the taxpayer may request that the CRA determine the amount of the loss and the CRA must make that determination and send a notice of determination to the taxpayer.

In the present case, the CRA stated that subsection 152(1.1) provides that two requirements must be satisfied before a loss determination may be made: First, the CRA must ascertain the amount of the taxpayer’s loss to be an amount that differs from the amount reported by the taxpayer in its return, and (ii) the taxpayer requests the loss determination.

In Inco Limited v. The Queen (2004 TCC 373), the Tax Court stated,

[13] … subsection 152(1.1) of the Act clearly contemplates and establishes a procedure involving sequential steps or events that must take place in order for there to be a valid loss determination. These steps are: (a) the Minister ascertains the amount of a taxpayer’s non-capital loss for a taxation year in an amount that differs from the one reported in the taxpayer’s income tax return; (b) the taxpayer requests that the Minister determine the amount of the loss; (c) the Minister thereupon determines the amount of the loss and issues a notice of loss determination to the taxpayer.

We also note that, in a previous technical interpretation (CRA Document No. 2011-0401241I7 “Adjustments outside the normal assessment period” (September 7, 2011)), the CRA stated,

Paragraph 4 of Interpretation Bulletin IT-512 “Determination and redetermination of losses” also clarifies the CRA’s position on the requirements for a loss determination to be issued:

4. Where at the initial assessing stage or as a consequence of a reassessment arising from an audit or other investigative action by the Department the Minister ascertains a loss in an amount other than that reported by the taxpayer, a notice of assessment or reassessment (including a notice of “nil” assessment or reassessment) will be issued with an explanation of the changes. As well, the notice will inform the taxpayer that upon request the Minister will make a determination of the loss so ascertained and issue a notice of determination/redetermination. In this context, the Minister will not be considered to have ascertained that the amount of a loss differs from an amount reported by the taxpayer where the difference fully reflects a change requested by the taxpayer as a result of amended or new information.

Therefore, where the difference in the amount of a loss for the year reflects an amendment by the taxpayer, this is not considered to be “ascertained” by the Minister, and therefore, on its own, does not meet the requirements for subsection 152(1.1) loss determination. Therefore, in this case, because the taxpayer is requesting the changes and the Minister would not be “ascertaining” the amount of the loss, the taxpayer cannot request a loss determination.

In CRA Document No. 2014-0550351C6, the CRA restated that, if it accepts the amount of the loss reported in the taxpayer’s return, the CRA has not ascertained the loss to be an amount that differs from the amount reported in the return. Accordingly, the first condition of subsection 152(1.1) would not be met, and the CRA could not issue a loss determination at the time the return was filed.

In the CRA’s view, the Act would need to be amended to allow for the issuance of a loss determination at the time the taxpayer files its return.

In other words, the present is no time to request a loss determination. Unless the Act is amended to alter the timing requirements, such a request must wait until the time at which the CRA determines the taxpayer’s loss to be an amount different from the amount reported in the return.

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Loss Determinations: No Time Like the Present

CRA Charities Directorate Publishes 2015 Program Update

The CRA Charities Directorate has published its 2015 Program Update (previous updates are available here).

The CRA Charities Directorate has in recent years been actively updating and promoting the dissemination of its charity information, seeking the views of charities and other entities, and using technology to connect with charities and donors. However, the highest profile news stories in recent memory have focused on the Charities Directorate’s review/audit of charities that may be engaged in political activities and the allegation that these audits may be politically motivated (see our previous post here).

Selected highlights from the 2015 update include:

  • The Charities Directorate will, pursuant to subsection 241(3.2) of the Income Tax Act, disclose public information about every charity, including governing documents, registration applications, directors/trustees lists, financial statements and CRA communications;
  • The Charities Directorate has produced 22 videos and webinars for donors and charities, including videos addressing political activities and the first-time donors super-credit;
  • In 2014, the Charities Directorate sent over 70,000 reminders to charities to file their annual returns, over 8,000 reminders to file their financial statements, and over 5,000 notices to charities that they had not properly completed parts of their returns;
  • The Charities Directorate audits approx 1% of charities each year. In 2013-14, 845 audits were completed and which resulted in a variety of outcomes;
  • The Charities Directorate revokes the registered status of approximately 1,870 charities each year, of which 54% were voluntary, 43% were for failure to file an annual return, 2% were for cause following an audit, and 1% for loss of corporate status;
  • Of the 86,000 charities in Canada, 22% are organized and operated for the relief of poverty, 16% for the advancement of education, 38% for the advancement of religion, and 23% for other purposes beneficial to the community;
  • The Charities Directorate is in the third year of a four-year review of political activities of registered charities. The screening process for selecting charities for audit is based on the content of a charity’s T3010 form, complaints and concerns from the public, internal referrals, related files discovered during audit, media reports and other publicly-available information, and self-identification. The Charities Directorate has identified 60 charities for political activity audits, including 2 for relief of poverty, 12 for advancement of education, 7 for advancement of religion, and 37 for other purposes beneficial to the community (i.e., animal welfare, upholding human rights, protecting the environment, international development, promoting health, and community development);
  • Of these 60 audits, 21 have been completed, 28 remain on-going, and 11 will be started before the end of the project. The completed audits have resulted in six education letters, eight compliance agreements, five notices of intention to revoke, one voluntary revocation, and one annulment.

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CRA Charities Directorate Publishes 2015 Program Update

CRA Appoints New Ombudsman

The CRA has appointed a new Taxpayers’ Ombudsman, the second since the position was created in 2008.

From the CRA news release:

April 10, 2015 – Ottawa – Canada Revenue Agency

The Honourable Kerry-Lynne D. Findlay, P.C., Q.C., M.P., Minister of National Revenue, today announced the appointment of the new Taxpayers’ Ombudsman, Ms. Sherra Profit. Minister Findlay underscored the Canada Revenue Agency’s (CRA) commitment to maintain its strong relationship with the Office of the Taxpayers’ Ombudsman in order to provide Canadians with fair, equitable and respectful service.

The Office of the Taxpayers’ Ombudsman was established in 2008 and operates independently from the CRA. Its mandate is to uphold the Taxpayer Bill of Rights and provide an impartial review of unresolved taxpayer service complaints. This Government created the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, as well as the Office of the Taxpayer’s Ombudsman, and is committed to offering the highest level of service to Canadians.

Ms. Profit has more than 15 years of experience practicing law in a wide range of areas. Ms. Profit holds a Bachelor of Laws Degree from the University of Saskatchewan, and a Bachelor of Arts Degree from St. Francis Xavier University. She was called to the bar on April 14, 2000, in Prince Edward Island.

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CRA Appoints New Ombudsman

ConocoPhillips: FCA Confirms Tax Court’s Jurisdiction to Determine Questions of Timing and the Validity of a Notice of Objection

In ConocoPhillips Canada Resources Corp. v. The Queen (2014 FCA 297), the Federal Court of Appeal overturned a Federal Court decision (2013 FC 1192) and dismissed an application for judicial review by the taxpayer finding that the Federal Court lacked jurisdiction in this case.

ConocoPhillips had commenced an application for judicial review as a result of a dispute between the CRA about whether a Notice of Reassessment had been validly sent to the taxpayer.  The CRA alleged that it mailed a Notice of Reassessment on November 7, 2008. ConocoPhillips alleged that it never received the Notice of Reassessment and that it first learned of the reassessment on April 14, 2010.

Accordingly, when ConocoPhillips filed a Notice of Objection on June 7, 2010, the CRA advised that it would not consider the objection on the grounds that it was not filed within 90 days of the alleged mailing date (i.e., November 7, 2008) and that no request for an extension of time was made within the year following the alleged mailing date of the reassessment.

The Federal Court considered the question of jurisdiction and found that it had jurisdiction because the Court was not being asked to consider the validity of the reassessment (which can only be determined by the Tax Court of Canada) but rather, was only being asked to review the CRA’s decision not to consider the objection.

Based on the standard of reasonableness, the Federal Court found in favour of ConocoPhillips on the basis that the CRA had not sufficiently engaged the evidence to appropriately render an opinion whether or not the reassessment was mailed on the alleged date. The Court set aside that decision.

The Crown appealed to the Federal Court of Appeal on the basis that the Federal Court lacked jurisdiction on this issue.  The Federal Court of Appeal allowed the appeal.

Section 18.5 of the Federal Courts Act provides that judicial review in the Federal Court is not available where, inter alia, an appeal is permitted on the issue before the Tax Court of Canada.  In the present case, the Federal Court of Appeal stated that, pursuant to subsection 169(1)(b) of the Income Tax Act (Canada), ConocoPhillips could have appealed to the Tax Court after 90 days had elapsed following the date its objection was initially filed and the Tax Court would have been the correct forum to determine if, or when, the Notice of Reassessment was mailed and when the time for filing a Notice of Objection expired.

The Federal Court of Appeal clarified that the Minister’s obligation to consider a Notice of Objection is triggered regardless of whether a Notice of Objection may have been filed within the required time-frame. Further, the Minister’s decision on this issue is not an impediment to filing an appeal to the Tax Court pursuant to paragraph 169(1)(b) of the Income Tax Act (Canada). Accordingly, judicial review of this issue was not available in the Federal Court.

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ConocoPhillips: FCA Confirms Tax Court’s Jurisdiction to Determine Questions of Timing and the Validity of a Notice of Objection

Lau: BC SC Corrects Articles of Incorporation After $17.3 Million Reassessment

Many tax rectification cases address situations in which certain transaction documents contain errors that do not accord with the parties’ intent to minimize or avoid taxes. However, there are several cases in which the courts are asked to correct errors in a company’s constating documents – errors that lead to unintended and adverse tax results for the company or its shareholders.

In Lau v. A.G. (Canada) (2014 BCSC 2384), the British Columbia Supreme Court considered whether a mistake in the drafting of a company’s Articles of Incorporation could be corrected under BC corporate law and/or the doctrine of rectification.

0777020 B.C. Ltd. was incorporated in 2006. The Articles of the company stated, among other things, that the Class E preferred shares could be issued (i) as a stock dividend, or (ii) in exchange for property. The directors of the company could establish the redemption amount of the Class E shares, but the Articles stated that this power of the directors existed only in respect of the issuance of the shares for property (i.e., no redemption amount could be determined where such Class E shares were issued as a stock dividend).

In 2008, the company issued 100 Class E shares as a stock dividend. The directors determined the redemption value to be $17,635,000. There were several subsequent transfers of these Class E shares among the individual shareholders and companies in the corporate group, and certain pre-existing liabilities were cancelled as a result of the Class E share transfers.

Subsequently, the CRA alleged the Class E shares had never been validly issued because no power to determine a redemption value existed in the company’s Articles. The CRA reassessed an individual shareholder to include $17.3 million in his income for 2008.

The individual shareholder objected and eventually appealed to the Tax Court. In the meantime, the company brought proceedings in the British Columbia provincial court to correct certain errors in the corporate documents, including the provision in the Articles addressing the directors’ power to determine the redemption value of the Class E shares. There were several proceedings that addressed the various errors:

  • May 21, 2013 – Taxpayers initiate first proceeding to correct various corporate documents
  • September 17, 2013 – Court grants requested relief in first proceeding
  • December 4, 2013 – Taxpayers initiate second proceeding to correct various corporate documents and Articles
  • April 10, 2014 – Taxpayer amends second proceeding to remove requested relief in respect of Articles
  • April 30, 2014 – Court grants requested relief in second proceeding
  • May 2, 2014 – Taxpayers initiate third proceeding to correct provision in Articles addressing Class E share redemption value

In the third proceeding, the taxpayers had revived the relief originally requested in the second proceeding in respect of the Articles. However, they adduced and relied on more extensive evidence concerning the drafting error. In response, the CRA argued that (i) the issue was barred by cause of action estoppel, (ii) the BC Court should decline jurisdiction, and (iii) rectification should not be granted.

On the first two issues, the BC Court held that (i) cause of action estoppel did not apply to prevent the taxpayers from seeking rectification of the Articles, and (ii) the BC provincial courts have exclusive jurisdiction to consider the requested relief (i.e., under the British Columbia Business Corporation Act or the doctrine of rectification) and it was not appropriate to decline jurisdiction in favour of the Tax Court of Canada.

On the third issue, the BC Court noted that the taxpayers had sought relief based on ss. 229 and 230 of the BC BCA and the court’s equitable jurisdiction. The BC Court held that the evidence of the individual shareholders and their counsel clearly established that the parties intended for the company’s directors to have the power to determine the redemption price of the Class E shares when issued as a stock dividend and in exchange for property. The absence of language in the Articles in respect of this power was a result of an error by the company’s solicitor.

The BC Court stated that ss. 229 and 230 of the BC BCA provide a court with the ability to correct any corporate mistake. Further, the BC Court was satisfied that the taxpayers had proven they had a common intention to empower the directors to determine the redemption amount and that the company’s Articles did not reflect this true intention.

The BC Court ordered that the Articles were corrected nunc pro tunc from 2006 to include language that established the proper powers of the directors.

On a sub-issue, the BC Court considered whether the CRA should have been named as a party in the third proceeding (the taxpayers had named the CRA as a party in the first two proceedings, but had refused to name the CRA as a party in the third).

The BC Court noted that there did not appear to be any consensus or consistent approach on this issue. The BC Court stated that the CRA need not be named as a party in every BC BCA or rectification proceeding. In the appropriate circumstances, the CRA may apply to be named as a party, and a court may exercise its discretion to join the CRA as a party. In this case, it was appropriate that the CRA be named as a party.

In light of the mixed success on the application, the BC Court did not award costs to either party.

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Lau: BC SC Corrects Articles of Incorporation After $17.3 Million Reassessment

Fairmont: Ont SCJ Unwinds Share Redemption and Substitutes Loan Arrangement

The common law doctrine of rectification operates to correct mistakes in transactions that produce (or may produce) unintended and adverse tax results. This was established in the landmark case of Juliar et. al. v A.G. (Canada) (50 O.R. 3d 728) (Ont. C.A.) (Dentons was counsel to the successful taxpayers).

In Fairmont Hotels Inc. et al. v A.G. (Canada) (2014 ONSC 7302) the Ontario Superior Court of Justice has provided another example of the manner in which rectification can be used to unwind certain impugned steps in a transaction and substitute the proper steps that accord with the parties’ intention to avoid tax.

Legacy Hotels REIT owned a collection of hotels, which were purchased from Fairmont in or around 1997. Fairmont continued to manage these hotels. In 2002 and 2003, Fairmont was involved in the financing of Legacy’s purchase of two hotels in Washington and Seattle. Through the use of several reciprocal loans between Legacy, Fairmont and several subsidiary companies, Legacy purchased the Washington hotel for $67 million USD and the Seattle hotel for $19 million USD. Fairmont hedged its loans to eliminate or reduce its foreign exchange tax exposure in Canada.

In 2006, Fairmont was acquired by two companies and its shares ceased to be publicly traded. This acquisition of control could have frustrated the parties’ intention that no entity would realize a foreign exchange gain or loss in connection with the reciprocal loan arrangements. A tax and accounting plan was created that would have allowed the companies to complete the acquisition and continue the full hedge of the foreign exchange exposure. However, this plan was modified before implementation with the result that certain foreign exchange exposure was not hedged.

In 2007, Legacy asked Fairmont to terminate the reciprocal loan arrangements on an urgent basis so that the Washington and Seattle hotels could be sold. A Fairmont officer mistakenly believed that the original 2006 plan had been implemented (i.e., the plan that continued the full hedge of the foreign exchange exposure) and agreed to the unwinding of the loans (which involved the redemption of certain preferred shares of the subsidiaries involved in the loan arrangements). Subsequently, the CRA reviewed the transactions and reassessed Fairmont on the basis that the 2007 share redemptions triggered a foreign exchange gain.

Fairmont brought an application to rectify the 2007 share redemptions and to substitute a loan arrangement. Fairmont argued that its intent from 2002 was to have the original reciprocal loan arrangements unwound on a tax-neutral basis. In response, the Crown argued that Fairmont had never intended the proposed substituted loan arrangement and thus was engaged in retroactive tax planning.

Fairmont relied on the Ontario Court of Appeal decision in Juliar for the principle that the exact method to achieve a common intention to avoid tax is not required at the time of the transaction. In response, the Crown argued that the Alberta Court of Queens’ Bench in Graymar Equipment (2008) Inc. v A.G. (Canada) (2014 ABQB 154) had been critical of Juliar and had stated that rectification is granted to restore a transaction to its original purpose and not to avoid an unintended effect.

However, in the present case, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice stated that, unlike the Alberta court, Ontario courts “do not have the luxury of ignoring” the Ontario Court of Appeal’s decision in Juliar. Further, the Ontario court stated that the Alberta court had not accurately described what happened in Juliar, and that another recent Alberta decision had in fact followed the reasoning in Juliar.

In the present case, the Ontario Court held that Fairmont’s intention from 2002 was to carry out the reciprocal loan arrangements on a tax- and accounting-neutral basis so that any foreign exchange gain would be offset by a corresponding foreign exchange loss. This intention remained unchanged when Fairmont was sold in 2006 and when the reciprocal loans were unwound in 2007. A mistake had caused the unintended tax assessments.

The Court also stated that this was not a situation in which the taxpayer was engaging in retroactive tax planning after a CRA audit. The parties intended to unwind the loans on a tax-free basis.

The Court allowed the application and rectified the corporate resolutions as requested. The Court awarded $30,000 of costs to the Applicants.

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Fairmont: Ont SCJ Unwinds Share Redemption and Substitutes Loan Arrangement