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Kruger: FX Derivatives Gains/Losses Taxed Only When Realized

In Kruger Incorporated v. The Queen (2015 TCC 119), the Tax Court held that the taxpayer could not value its foreign exchange options contracts on a mark-to-market basis, with the result that certain losses were not deductible by the taxpayer in a year. The Kruger case is another recent judgment of the Tax Court in the developing law on the Canadian tax treatment of financial derivative products (see George Weston Limited v. The Queen (2015 TCC 42)).

Facts

Kruger’s core business was manufacturing newsprint, paper-coated products and tissue paper. In the 1980s, Kruger started trading in foreign currency contracts, and over time these activities grew to involve more than 10 employees trading in currency, bonds and securities.

In 1997, Kruger was advised that it was required to start reporting its financial trading activities on a mark-to-market basis, which required the recognition of any change in market value in a year as an income gain or loss.

In 1998, certain of Kruger’s U.S. currency options contracts were “under water” due to fluctuations in the Canada-U.S. exchange rate. Accordingly, for its 1998 tax year, Kruger claimed losses totaling $91,104,379 from a business of trading in derivatives. The CRA reassessed to deny the deduction of $91,104,379, but excluded from income the amount of $18,696,881, which Kruger had included as the amortized portion of the net of premium income and expenses for the foreign exchange options contracts. The CRA also included the amount of $91,104,379 in Kruger’s taxable capital for the purposes of the large corporations tax (which has now been generally repealed).

Kruger appealed the reassessment on the basis that, in accordance with section 9 of the Act, it was entitled to value its foreign exchange options contracts using the mark-to-market method, and argued in the alternative that its foreign exchange options contracts were inventory and were to be valued at the lower of cost and fair market value under subsection 10(1) of the Act.

Analysis

The Court reviewed the key Canadian judicial authorities regarding the test for determining income under the Act, including Friedberg v. The Queen ([1993] 4 S.C.R. 285), Canderel Limited v. The Queen ([1998] 1 S.C.R. 147), Friesen v. The Queen ([1995] 3 S.C.R. 103). The Court referred to the oft-cited principles from Canderel that the determination of profit is a question of law, and a taxpayer is free to adopt any method for determining profit that is not inconsistent with the provisions of the Act, case law, and well-accepted business principles. Once the taxpayer has shown that it has provided an accurate picture of income, the onus shifts to the CRA to establish that the amount is not an accurate picture of profit or that another method would provide a more accurate picture.

The Court noted there were no provisions in the Act that required or authorized the valuation of property on a mark-to-market basis. Further, there is an important difference between financial and tax accounting:

[109] Financial accounting … is concerned with constructing a picture of profit from year to year in a consistent manner for the benefit of the audience for whom financial statements are prepared: shareholders, investors, lenders, etc. … FASB views mark to market valuation for the same reasons: to better enable investors, creditors and others to assess the entity’s performance. …

[110] Tax accounting normally is not overly concerned with the past; it wants a picture of income for a particular year and … the methodology used to calculate income in one year may be different from that used in an earlier year. … statements for tax purposes are solely concerned with the computation of income in achieving an accurate picture of income for the particular taxation year.

The Court noted that sections 142.2 to 142.5 of the Act require financial institutions and investment dealers to use mark-to-market, but these rules did not apply to Kruger. The Court stated,

[114] Mark to market accounting … would compel a taxpayer to include any loss or gain in value of the property at year-end in income for the year. This may be appropriate for financial statements for reasons discussed earlier. But, for income tax purposes, the taxpayer may be compelled to include an amount in income where there is no clear statutory language requiring him or her to do so. The realization principle is basic to Canadian tax law. It provides certainty of a gain or loss. Without some support of the statutory language or a compelling interpretation tool it ought not to be cast aside.

The Court also noted a difficulty in respect of the market prices for the foreign exchange options contracts, namely that such prices were formulated by the counter-parties to the contracts (i.e., Kruger’s banks). The Court held there was a “probably inconsistency in values” depending on the pricing method used by the counter-party.

In respect of Kruger’s alternative argument that the options contracts were inventory, the Court determined that Kruger was carrying on a business of speculating on foreign exchange currency options that was separate from its manufacturing business. Further, the Court determined that the foreign exchange options contracts were financial liabilities when such contracts were written by Kruger, and property (i.e., inventory) when purchased by Kruger.

The Court allowed the appeal only to permit Kruger to value its purchased foreign exchange options contracts in accordance with subsection 10(1) of the Act (which would have an effect similar to mark-to-market accounting in that the contracts would be valued each year at the lower of cost and fair market value). Additionally, the amount of $91,104,379 was to be added to Kruger’s taxable capital for the purposes of the large corporations tax

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Kruger: FX Derivatives Gains/Losses Taxed Only When Realized

SCC Clarifies Law on Admissibility of Expert Evidence

The Supreme Court has released its decision in White Burgess Langille Inman v. Abbott and Haliburton (2015 SCC 23) in which it considered whether the standards for admissibility of expert evidence should take into account the proposed expert’s (alleged) lack of independence or bias.

The Supreme Court’s decision brings some much-needed clarity to the issue of whether a trial judge can disqualify an expert based on impartiality and lack of independence at the qualification stage (i.e., Mohan).  Until now, there has been conflicting case law on this issue, with the majority of the cases supporting the conclusion that, at a certain point, expert evidence should be ruled inadmissible due to the expert’s lack of impartiality and/or independence.

The important questions that remained unanswered, and that trial courts struggled with, were (1) should the elements of an expert’s duty (i.e., independence and impartiality) go to admissibility of the evidence rather than simply to its weight? (2) If so, is there a threshold admissibility requirement in relation to independence and impartiality?

The Supreme Court unanimously answered both questions with “yes.”

(1)   The Expert’s Duty

The Supreme Court stated that expert witnesses have a duty to the court to give fair, objective and non-partisan opinion evidence.  They must be aware of this duty and be able and willing to carry it out.  Underlying the various formulations of the duty of an expert are three related concepts:

(i)        Impartiality: The expert’s opinion must be impartial in the sense that it reflects an objective assessment of the questions at hand.

(ii)        Independent: It must be independent it in the sense that it is the product of the expert’s independent judgment, uninfluenced by who has retained him or her or the outcome of the litigation.

(iii)        Absence of Bias: It must be unbiased in the sense that it does not unfairly favour one party’s position over another.  The “acid test” is whether the expert’s opinion would not change regardless of which party retained him or her.

However, the Supreme Court recognized that these concepts must be applied to the realities of adversary litigation.  Experts are generally retained, instructed and paid by one of the adversaries. According to the Court, “these facts alone do not undermine the expert’s independence, impartiality and freedom of bias.”

(2)   The Framework

The Court concluded that concerns related to the expert’s duty to the court and his or her willingness and capacity to comply with it are best addressed at the “qualification of expert” element of the Mohan framework (which is part 4 of that test).  A proposed expert witness who is unable and unwilling to fulfill his or her duty to the court is not properly qualified to perform the role of an expert.  If the expert witness does not meet this threshold admissibility requirement, his or her evidence should not be admitted.  Once this threshold is met, however, remaining concerns about an expert witness’s compliance with his or her duty should be considered as part of the overall cost-benefit analysis which the judge conducts to carry out his or her gatekeeping function.

The Supreme Court essentially adopted the 2-part test set out by the Ontario Court of Appeal in R. v. Abbey (2009 ONCA 624) and added its own gloss with respect part 4 of that test:

Step 1

The proponent of the expert evidence must establish the threshold requirements of admissibility.  These are the four Mohan factors (relevance, necessity, absence of an exclusionary rule, and properly qualified expert).

In addition, in the case of an opinion based on novel or contested science or science used for a novel purpose, the reliability of the underlying science for that purpose (see R. v. J.-L.J. (2000 SCC 51) per Binnie J.).

After reviewing Canadian, British, Australian, and U.S. authorities, the Supreme Court concluded that an expert’s lack of independence and impartiality goes to the admissibility of the evidence in addition to being considered in relation to the weight to be given to the evidence if admitted.  In reaching this conclusion, it relied upon Justice Binnie’s oft cited quote in R. v. J-L.J.: “The admissibility of the expert evidence should be scrutinized at the time it is proffered, and not allowed too easy an entry on the basis that all of the frailties could go at the end of the day to weight rather than admissibility”.

The Court concluded that concerns related to the expert’s duty to the court and his or her willingness and capacity to comply with it are best addressed initially in the “properly qualified expert” element of the Mohan framework.  In another recent decision, the Supreme Court held that for expert testimony to be inadmissible, more than a simple appearance of bias is necessary.  The question is not whether a reasonable person would consider that the expert is not independent.  Rather, what must be determined is whether the expert’s lack of independence renders him or her incapable of giving an impartial opinion in the specific circumstances of the case (Mouvement Laïque Québécois v. Saguenay (City) (2015 SCC 160) at para. 106).

Evidence that does not meet these threshold requirements should be excluded.

Step 2

Finding that expert evidence meets the basic threshold does not end the inquiry. At the second discretionary gatekeeping step, the judge balances the potential risks and benefits of admitting the evidence in order to decide whether the potential benefits justify the risks (put another way, whether otherwise admissible expert evidence should be excluded because its probative value was overborne by its prejudicial effect).  This is a residual discretion to exclude evidence based on a cost-benefit analysis. The Court adopted Doherty J.A.’s summary of this balancing exercise in Abbey – that the “trial judge must decide whether expert evidence that meets the preconditions to admissibility is sufficiently beneficial to the trial process to warrant its admission despite the potential harm to the trial process that may flow from the admission of the expert evidence.”

(3)   The Threshold

The Court also discussed the appropriate threshold for admissibility.  If a witness is unable or unwilling to fulfill his or her duty, they do not qualify to perform the role of an expert and should be excluded.  The expert witness must, therefore, be aware of this primary duty to the court and be able and willing to carry it out.  While the Court wouldn’t go so far as to hold that the expert’s independence and impartiality should be presumed absent challenge, the Court did state that absent such challenge, the expert’s attestation or testimony recognizing and accepting the duty will generally be sufficient to establish that this threshold is met.

Once the expert testifies on oath to this effect, the burden is on the party opposing the admission of the evidence to show that there is a realistic concern that the expert’s evidence should not be received because the expert is unable and/or unwilling to comply with that duty. If the opponent does so, the burden to establish on a balance of probabilities this aspect of the admissibility threshold remains on the party proposing to call the evidence.  If this is not done, the evidence, or those parts of it that are tainted by a lack of independence or by impartiality, should be excluded.

The Court held that this threshold requirement is not particularly onerous and it will likely be quite rare that a proposed expert’s evidence would be ruled in admissible for failing to meet it. The trial judge must determine, having regard to both the particular circumstances of the proposed expert and the substance of the proposed evidence, whether the expert is able and willing to carry out his or her primary duty to the court.  It is the nature and extent of the interest or connection with the litigation or a party thereto which matters, not the mere fact of the interest or connection.  The Court further stated that the existence of some interest or a relationship does not automatically render the evidence of the proposed expert inadmissible.  For example, a mere employment relationship with the party calling the evidence will be insufficient to do so.

The Court went on to provide some examples of types of interests/relationships that may warrant exclusion of the expert’s evidence:

  • A direct financial interest in the outcome of the litigation will be of some concern;
  • A very close familial relationship with one of the parties;
  • Situations in which the proposed expert will probably incur professional liability if his or her opinion is not accepted by the court; or
  • An expert who, in his or her proposed evidence or otherwise, assumes the role of an advocate for a party.

The decision as to whether an expert should be permitted to give evidence despite having an interest or connection with the litigation is a matter of fact and degree.  The concept of apparent bias is not relevant to the question of whether or not an expert witness will be unable or unwilling to fulfill its primary duty to the court.  When looking at an expert’s interest or relationship with a party, the question is whether the relationship or interest results in the expert being unable or unwilling to carry out his or her primary duty to the court to provide fair, non-partisan and objective assistance.

The Court emphasized that exclusion at the threshold stage of the analysis should occur only in very clear cases in which the proposed expert is unable or unwilling to provide the court with fair, objective and non-partisan evidence.  Anything less than clear unwillingness or inability to do so should not lead to exclusion, but be taken into account in the overall weighing of costs and benefits of receiving the evidence.

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SCC Clarifies Law on Admissibility of Expert Evidence

Guindon: SCC Hears Arguments in Penalty Case

The Supreme Court of Canada heard oral arguments today in the case of Guindon v. The Queen (Docket No. 35519). At issue in the case is the nature of the third-party penalty in section 163.2 of the Income Tax Act.

See our previous post on the case here.

The taxpayer’s factum is available here, and the Crown’s factum is here. In written submissions, the taxpayer argued:

    1. Section 163.2 is an offence provision that attracts the protections of section 11 of the Charter, and
    2. No notice of constitutional question was required.

In response, the Crown argued:

    1. The taxpayer’s failure to file a notice of constitutional question is fatal to the appeal, and
    2. Section 163.2 is not an offence provision.

The seven-member panel was chaired by Justice Rosalie Abella. (Absent were Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin and recently appointed Justice Suzanne Côté.)

Taxpayer’s Arguments

The Appellant first addressed the question of whether notice of a constitutional question was required under section 19.2 of the Tax Court of Canada Act. The Appellant argued that it was not advancing the position that section 163.2 was invalid or inapplicable or inoperable, and thus no notice was required. Further, if notice was required, it had been provided in respect of the Supreme Court proceeding.

This brought a series of pointed questions from Justices Abella and Moldaver, who asked whether the effect of the Appellant’s interpretation would be to “throw out” the third-party penalty regime in section 163.2 because it would become subject to criminal procedural requirements. Further, the Court was unconvinced that providing the notice in respect of the Supreme Court hearing cured the failure to provide the notice in the Tax Court.

In respect of the Wigglesworth test, the Appellant argued that section 163.2 is directed at any person, and therefore it is intended to promote public order rather than to regulate a private sphere of conduct. Further, section 163.2 has a true penal consequence in that the penalty imposed under this section is identical to the penalty that could be imposed under section 239 for criminal tax evasion.

Justice Rothstein asked several questions about how section 163.2 differs from the other penalty provisions in the Act and whether a finding that section 163.2 was an offense would require Parliament to redraft the provision to include language similar to that found in section 239. On this point, Justice Abella returned to the issue of whether the Appellant was in fact seeking to have section 163.2 declared inoperable.

Crown’s Arguments

The Crown’s submissions were generally received with less judicial intervention from the Court.  The Crown began its submissions with a discussion of the issue of notice of constitutional question.  When asked whether the failure to give notice can be cured in subsequent proceedings, counsel for the Crown conceded that it could in certain cases, but that by the time the dispute comes before the Supreme Court, the matter should be fully argued and the evidentiary record should be complete.

The Crown argued that, in this case, the Federal Court of Appeal could have done one of three things, each of which would have been acceptable: (1) it could have said that notice of constitutional question is required, adjourned the proceedings to remedy the failure, and heard arguments on the substantive issue; (2) it could have returned the matter back to the Tax Court to have the notice served and arguments re-heard so that the evidentiary record could be completed at trial; or (3) it could have done what it did in this case, and held that failure to give notice prevented the court from considering whether section 163.2 implicates the Charter. On this point, Crown counsel argued that the Supreme Court should not sanction a practice that makes it better to ask for forgiveness on appeal rather than asking for permission in the Tax Court.

Regarding the substantive issue, Crown counsel argued that since the penalty is computed mathematically, and with specific reference to the amount of tax credits that the individual taxpayers claimed under the Income Tax Act, then the penalty in section 163.2 is a non-discretionary penalty that bears none of the principles of sentencing (e.g., blameworthiness, retribution, denunciation, reparation, etc.).

Crown counsel discussed the facts of the case to show the link between the penalty amount and the underlying income tax at issue.  Interestingly, Crown counsel distinguished this penalty (i.e., the “tax preparer” penalty) from the “tax advisor” penalty in section 163.2, on the basis that the tax advisor penalty takes into account “gross entitlements”, which this particular penalty does not (therefore, it remains to be seen in a future case whether the “tax advisor” penalty in section 163.2 could be treated differently).  In response to questions from Justices Abella and Rothstein, Crown counsel stated that this penalty is not an “outlier”, as counsel for the Appellant suggested, and that the type of stigma attached to this penalty is a different kind of stigma than the one attached to criminal sanctions.

Finally, regarding the issue of quantum, Crown counsel argued that the amount of the penalty was irrelevant to the analysis.  Justices Abella and Rothstein asked whether the analysis would change if the amount was sufficiently enormous.  Crown counsel argued that the analysis turns on whether the penalty is penal in nature, and if the answer is no, then only in extreme cases would the actual amount cause a penalty to be penal.

*     *     *

Following brief submissions made by the intervener, the Court reserved its decision.

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Guindon: SCC Hears Arguments in Penalty Case

Guindon: SCC Hearing Scheduled for December 5, 2014

The highly-anticipated appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada in Guindon v The Queen has been scheduled for hearing on December 5, 2014, and the parties have now filed their factums in the appeal.

For our prior posts on this decision, refer to our summary of the Tax Court decision (2012 TCC 287), our guest blogger’s summary of the Federal Court of Appeal decision (2013 FCA 153), and our summary of the Supreme Court leave application (Docket No. 35519).

The Appellant’s (Ms. Guindon’s) Factum is available here, and the Respondent’s (Crown’s) Factum is here.

The appeal concerns the “third party” penalties under section 163.2 of the Income Tax Act.  In short, the Tax Court found that the penalty imposed under section 163.2 is a criminal penalty, not a civil one, and therefore subject to the protection of (inter alia) section 11 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The Federal Court of Appeal reversed on the basis that Ms. Guindon did not provide notice of a constitutional question, and thus the Tax Court lacked jurisdiction to make an order on the nature of section 163.2.  In any event, the Federal Court of Appeal also stated that the penalty under section 163.2 was not criminal in nature, and hence, was not subject to Charter protections.

Taxpayer’s Arguments

On appeal to the Supreme Court, Ms. Guindon has framed her appeal as follows: based on the Supreme Court’s decisions in Wigglesworth and Martineau, section 163.2 is an offence provision that attracts the protection of (inter alia) section 11 of the Charter on the basis that section 163.2 is (1) an offence provision “by nature” and (2) an offence provision by virtue of its true “penal consequences”.

In addition, if section 163.2 is an offence provision, then Ms. Guindon argues that her section 11 Charter rights were breached in a manner that cannot be justified under section 1 of the Charter (applying the Oakes test).

Finally, Ms. Guindon asserts that a notice of constitutional question did not need to be filed in this case, since she was not seeking a declaration that section 163.2 was unconstitutional, but was rather merely asserting her Charter rights (and in the alternative, if notice of constitutional question was needed, Ms. Guindon argues that no prejudice resulted to the Crown and the Supreme Court can simply replace the lower court’s decision with its own).

Crown’s Arguments

The Crown, not surprisingly, has focused its primary argument on the fact that no notice of constitutional question was made by the taxpayer.  Accordingly, the Crown argues that the Supreme Court should dismiss the appeal on that basis alone and need not consider the substantive issues.

Alternatively, the Crown argues that section 163.2 is not an offence provision “by nature”, as its objects are purely administrative, the purpose of the penalty is to deter non-compliance under the Income Tax Act, and the process by which to challenge the penalty (i.e., the objection and appeal process under the Act) is not criminal in nature.

Moreover, the Crown asserts that section 163.2 does not impose true “penal consequences”, since (i) prosecution could have resulted in harsher sanctions (including prison time), and (ii) the magnitude of the penalty must be assessed in the context of the malady it intends to remedy (notwithstanding the lack of a penalty “ceiling”).  If the Supreme Court finds that section 163.2 infringes section 11 of the Charter, then the Minister will not seek to uphold it under section 1 of the Charter.

Potential Implications

Regardless of the Supreme Court’s finding on the issue regarding the notice of constitutional question, it would be surprising if the Supreme Court did not consider the substantive issue – it would be puzzling for the Court to grant leave and consider only the preliminary question. Accordingly, even if Ms. Guindon’s appeal fails on technical grounds, we expect the Court to offer much-needed guidance on the nature of section 163.2.

If the Court determines that section 163.2 infringes section 11 of the Charter (regardless of its finding on the “notice” issue), we can expect the Department of Finance may consider amendments to 163.2 (and the parallel provision under the Excise Tax Act) in a manner that takes into account the Supreme Court’s reasons.

The Court’s decision will also have implications for the Excise Tax Act (the “ETA”).  Section 285.1 of the ETA imposes a similar planner/preparer penalty for GST/HST purposes. At the CPA Commodity Tax Symposium in Ottawa (held on September 29 and 30, 2014), the CRA announced that it had recently issued the first penalty under section 285.1 of the ETA.

And for both the ITA and ETA, we expect there may be other potential penalty reassessments issued – or not – depending on the result of the Guindon case.

For these reasons, we eagerly await the hearing on December 5, 2014 and the Court’s subsequent decision.

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Guindon: SCC Hearing Scheduled for December 5, 2014

SCC Grants Leave to Appeal in Guindon v. The Queen

The Supreme Court of Canada has granted leave to appeal in Guindon v. The Queen (Docket # 35519).  In this case, the Supreme Court of Canada will consider whether penalties imposed under section 163.2 of the Income Tax Act (Canada) constitute an “offence” within the meaning of s. 11 of the Charter.

The Tax Court found that the penalty imposed under section 163.2 of the Act is a
criminal penalty, not a civil one, and therefore subject to the same constitutional protections as other penal statutes enacted by the federal government.

The Federal Court of Appeal reversed the Tax Court’s ruling, first on the basis that Ms. Guindon had not followed the proper process in challenging section 163.2 by failing to provide notice of a constitutional question, and so the Tax Court lacked the jurisdiction to make the order it did. However, the Federal Court of Appeal considered the merits of the issue in any event, and held that advisor penalty proceedings are not criminal in nature and do not impose “true penal consequences.”

Our previous comments on the decisions are here and here.

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SCC Grants Leave to Appeal in Guindon v. The Queen

Supreme Court of Canada: Rectification is Alive and Well in Quebec

Earlier today, the Supreme Court of Canada delivered its decision in two Quebec rectification cases, Agence du Revenu du Quebec v. Services Environnementaux AES Inc. and Agence du Revenu du Quebec v. Jean Riopel. In a unanimous decision rendered by Mr. Justice LeBel (the only civil law judge on the panel) the Court upheld the decisions of the Quebec Court of Appeal in these two cases, permitting the parties to correct mistakes which resulted in unintended tax consequences. However, the reasons set out in Mr. Justice LeBel’s decision differ in part from the decisions of the Quebec Court of Appeal.

By way of background, Canada has a bijuridical legal system. The French civil law is the law in Quebec relating to civil matters while the law in the rest of Canada is based on the English common law. In these two cases, the issue related to whether rectification (which is a concept under the common law) can also be applied under Quebec civil law. It should be noted that the term “rectification” is not used in the reasons for judgment in either of the two appeals.

After going through the facts of each case and the decisions of the lower courts (see our previous posts on these cases here and here) Mr. Justice LeBel stated that the dispute between the taxpayers and the Quebec tax authority raises both procedural and substantive issues. He then went on to state that the substantive issue of whether proceedings to amend documents are permitted under Quebec’s civil law is the main issue and that the procedural issues are of only minor importance.

Mr. Justice LeBel noted that there was uncontested evidence establishing the nature of the taxpayers’ intention in each case and that under the civil law, in most cases a contract is based on the common intention of the parties and not on the written document. In this case, it was clear that the taxpayers’ intention was not properly documented because of the errors made by the taxpayers’ advisors. Accordingly, the taxpayers could rescind the contract or amend the documents to implement their intentions. In this case, the taxpayers had agreed to correct the documents so that the documents were consistent with their intentions.

The issue that then arises is to how such correction affects the tax authorities. Mr. Justice LeBel notes that in this case, there is an interplay of civil law and tax law and he makes the important point that the tax authorities generally do not acquire rights to have an erroneous written document continue to apply for their benefit where an error has been established and the documents are inconsistent with the taxpayer’s true intention.

Mr. Justice LeBel held that the parties in these two cases could amend the written documents because there was no dispute as to the intention of the parties and that it is open to the court to intervene to declare that the amendments to the documents made by the taxpayers were legitimate and necessary to reflect their intentions. He goes on to state that if a document includes an error, particularly one that can be attributed to an error by the taxpayer’s professional advisor, the court must, once the error is proved in accordance with the rules of evidence, note the error and ensure that it is remedied. In addition, the tax authorities do not have any acquired rights to benefit from an error made by the taxpayers in their documents after the taxpayers have corrected the error by mutual consent to reflect their intentions.

However, Mr. Justice LeBel warns taxpayers not to view this recognition of the parties’ common intention as an invitation to engage in bold tax planning on the assumption that it will always be possible for taxpayers to redo their contracts retroactively should the planning fail.

In the cases under appeal, the taxpayers amended the written documents to give effect to their common intention. This intention had clearly been established and related to obligations whose objects were determinative or determinable. Accordingly, the taxpayers’ amendments to the written documents were permitted.

Interestingly, the Attorney General of Canada, who intervened in the appeals, asked the court to consider and reject a line of authority that has developed since the Ontario Court of Appeal‘s decision in Attorney General of Canada v. Juliar, 2000 DTC 6589 (Ont. C.A.). Juliar is recognized as the leading case in rectification matters and has been the basis of numerous successful rectification applications in respect of tax matters in the common law provinces of Canada. Mr. Justice LeBel stated that the two cases under appeal are governed by Quebec civil law and it is not appropriate for the court to reconsider the common law remedy of rectification in connection with these appeals. Accordingly, Mr. Justice LeBel refrains from criticising, approving or commenting on the application of Juliar and rectification under the common law.

It is also interesting to note that in Juliar the CRA sought leave to appeal the decision of the Ontario Court of Appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada and that leave was denied. We will have to wait to see if the CRA attempts to take another case to the Supreme Court of Canada to determine the applicability of Juliar and rectification under the common law. However, it is now clear that Quebec taxpayers can now “fix” most tax mistakes if they can prove that their intention was to undertake a transaction which does not result in tax and the transaction does not involve “bold tax planning”.

Supreme Court of Canada: Rectification is Alive and Well in Quebec

Supreme Court of Canada to Release Two Decisions on Tax and Rectification

On Thursday November 28, the Supreme Court of Canada will release its decisions in the companion cases of Agence du Revenu du Québec v. Services Environnementaux AES Inc., et al. (Docket #34235) and Agence du Revenu du Québec v. Jean Riopel, et al. (Docket #34393).

The narrow question on appeal is under what circumstances the Superior Court of Quebec may correct a written instrument that does not reflect the parties’ intentions. More broadly, the issue is how and to what extent the equitable principles of rectification operate in the context of the Quebec Civil Code. These will be the first substantive decisions of the Supreme Court on tax and the doctrine of rectification.

See our previous posts on the cases here and here.

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Supreme Court of Canada to Release Two Decisions on Tax and Rectification

Waiving rights of objection and appeal: SCC declines to hear the taxpayer’s appeal in Taylor v. The Queen

On August 15, 2013, the Supreme Court of Canada dismissed the application for leave to appeal in Terry E.Taylor v. Her Majesty the Queen (2012 FCA 148).

In Taylor, the issue was whether a signed settlement agreement under which the taxpayer waived his right to appeal was binding. In that case, the taxpayer was assessed for income tax and GST, as well as gross negligence penalties and interest. He signed a settlement agreement under which the Minister of National Revenue would vacate the gross negligence penalties and, in exchange, he would waive his right to object or appeal in accordance with subsections 165(1.2) and 169(2.2) of the Income Tax Act and subsections 301(1.6) and 206.1(2) of the Excise Tax Act. The taxpayer, who did not have counsel advising him at the time, later claimed that he was under duress when he signed the agreement. Having already disposed of the penalties, he went to Tax Court to challenge the amount of tax assessed.

Justice Judith Woods held that the taxpayer’s testimony that he was “scared” and pressured into signing the agreement lacked credibility given his qualifications as a Certified Management Accountant and his extensive business and financial experience. He had ample time to consult with counsel prior to meeting with the CRA. The Tax Court held that the settlement agreement was “freely made” and signed without “undue pressure.”  The Tax Court dismissed the taxpayer’s appeal (2010 TCC 246) and the Federal Court of Appeal affirmed at 2012 FCA 148. As noted above, the Supreme Court of Canada has declined to hear Mr. Taylor’s appeal.

Taylor adds to an existing body of case law on the question of whether, and under what circumstances, settlement agreements between taxpayers and the CRA can be set aside. The Tax Court has held that in certain limited circumstances a settlement agreement may not be binding. For example, in 1390758 Ontario Corporation v. The Queen (2010 TCC 572) and Huppe v. the Queen (2010 TCC 644), agreements were held to be binding so long as they were made on a “principled” basis (see, for example, Daniel Sandler and Colin Campbell, “Catch-22: A Principled Basis for the Settlement of Tax Appeals“, Canadian Tax Journal (2009), Vol. 57, No. 4, 762-86).

Given that a significant portion of tax disputes are settled and never reach the courtroom, professional advisors should ensure that taxpayers understand the implications of signing settlement agreements under which they relinquish rights of objection or appeal.

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Waiving rights of objection and appeal: SCC declines to hear the taxpayer’s appeal in Taylor v. The Queen

The Latest Word from the Supreme Court of Canada on Conflicts of Interest: Canadian National Railway Co. v. McKercher LLP

The Supreme Court of Canada shed a bit more light on the “bright line rule” for determining when a conflict exists when a law firm represents clients whose interests are adverse in the recent decision of Canadian National Railway Co. v. McKercher LLP, 2013 SCC 39. The Court also provided further clarification regarding a law firm’s duty of loyalty to its clients and guidance for determining the appropriate remedy where this duty is breached.

In McKercher, Gordon Wallace hired McKercher LLP to act for him as the representative plaintiff in a proposed $1.75 billion class action against Canadian National Railway (CN) and others for allegedly overcharging western farmers to transport grain. At the time McKercher was retained by Mr. Wallace, the firm was acting for CN on several unrelated matters. McKercher did not tell CN in advance that it was entering into a retainer with Mr. Wallace, and after entering into this new retainer, the firm withdrew as counsel on some of CN’s matters. CN learned that McKercher was acting for Mr. Wallace in the proposed class action when it received a copy of the Statement of Claim, at which point CN terminated its relationship with McKercher and applied to disqualify the firm from representing Mr. Wallace. The Court of Queen’s Bench of Saskatchewan ruled in CN’s favour and disqualified McKercher from acting in the class action. However, the Court of Appeal overturned the disqualification and allowed McKercher to continue acting for Mr. Wallace, and CN appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada.

The Supreme Court allowed CN’s appeal, finding that McKercher breached its duty of loyalty owed to CN by breaching its duties (1) to avoid conflicts of interest, (2) of candour, and (3) of commitment to its client’s cause, which the Court described as the three salient aspects of the duty of loyalty.

In considering whether a conflict of interest existed, the Supreme Court applied the bright-line rule and found that McKercher clearly crossed the bright line by accepting the retainer with Mr. Wallace without CN’s consent. The Court upheld a strict interpretation of the rule, which stipulates that a law firm cannot concurrently represent clients whose interests are adverse without first obtaining their consent, even if the matters are unrelated.

Despite expressly rejecting arguments for a less strict interpretation of the rule, the Supreme Court pointed out that the scope of the rule is not unlimited. The Court clarified that the bright-line rule:

  1. only applies where the clients’ immediate interests are directly adverse in the legal matters the firm is representing them on;
  2. only applies to legal interests, not to commercial or strategic interests;
  3. cannot be used tactically; and
  4. does not apply where it would be unreasonable for a client to expect that the firm would not act against it in an unrelated matter (for example, with professional litigants, whose consent can be inferred when the conflicting matters are unrelated and there is no risk of improper use of confidential information).

When the bright-line rule does not apply, the Court endorsed a more contextual approach and stated that the test for determining whether a conflict of interest exists is whether there is a substantial risk that the lawyer’s representation of the client would be materially or adversely affected.

The Supreme Court observed that disqualification is normally the appropriate remedy for a breach of the bright-line rule in order to:

  1. avoid misuse of confidential information;
  2. avoid impaired representation; and
  3. maintain confidence in the administration of justice.

However, the Supreme Court noted that disqualification may not always be warranted where there is no risk of misuse of confidential information or prejudice to the complaining party. In cases where disqualification is sought only to maintain confidence in the justice system, courts must consider factors that may weigh against disqualification, including:

  • conduct that could disentitle the complaining party from seeking disqualification (such as delay in applying for disqualification);
  • significant prejudice to the non-complaining client in retaining its choice of, or any, counsel;
  • a law firm’s having accepted the conflicting matter in good faith and with the belief that the concurrent representation would not breach the bright-line rule.

The Court found that McKercher did not have confidential information that could prejudice CN in the class action. Therefore, the only relevant ground for disqualification in this case is to maintain public confidence in the administration of justice, which requires consideration of the above factors. As a result, the McKercher case has been returned to the Court of Queen’s Bench to determine the appropriate remedy for CN in light of the Supreme Court’s reasons.

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The Latest Word from the Supreme Court of Canada on Conflicts of Interest: Canadian National Railway Co. v. McKercher LLP

Daishowa-Marubeni: A Tree Fell in the Forest and the SCC Caught it!

In Daishowa-Marubeni International Ltd. v. The Queen, 2013 SCC 29, Justice Rothstein marries tax philosophy and tax practice by asking and answering the question:

If a tree falls in the forest and you are not around to replant it, how does it affect your taxes?

The Court analyzes the difference for tax purposes between liabilities and embedded obligations, considers the law of contingent liabilities, the role of tax symmetry in the Income Tax Act (Canada) (the “Act”), the role of the agreement between the parties and the role of accounting treatment in reaching the conclusion that embedded obligations are not liabilities that form part of proceeds of disposition.

For a full analysis of the decision, click here.

Daishowa-Marubeni: A Tree Fell in the Forest and the SCC Caught it!