The Canada Revenue Agency’s (the ‘’CRA’’) voluntary disclosures program allows taxpayers who meet certain conditions to correct inaccurate or incomplete information previously submitted to the CRA, or to disclose information not previously reported on their tax form. Under the current voluntary disclosures program, those who make a valid disclosure will be responsible for paying the taxes and reduced interest owing as a result of their disclosure, the whole without penalties or fear of prosecution. However, access to the voluntary disclosures program will be limited in the near future and radical changes will be introduced.
Access to the voluntary disclosures program limited for some and radical changes for others
However, on May 29, 2017, the CRA announced by the way of its Report on Progress that a revised voluntary disclosures program policy would be introduced shortly. The changes sought will tighten the access to the voluntary disclosures program and the relief provided. This announce by the CRA is made after the recommendation from the Standing Committee on Finance to conduct a review of the voluntary disclosures program as part of the strategy to combat offshore tax evasion and aggressive tax planning.
In completing its review of the program, CRA sought input from the Offshore Compliance Advisory Committee (the ‘’OCAC’’). In December 2016, the OCAC released the ‘’Report on the Voluntary Disclosures Program’’ which sets out different recommendations to ‘’improve’’ the program. The main contemplated alterations are to, in certain circumstances :
- increase the period for which full interest must be paid;
- reduce penalties relief in certain circumstances so that the taxpayers pay more than they would pay if they had been fully compliant; and
- even deny relief from civil penalties.
Such circumstances could include, for example :
- Situations where large dollar amounts of tax were avoided;
- Active efforts to avoid detection and the use of complex offshore structures;
- Multiple years of non-compliance;
- Disclosures motivated by CRA statements regarding its intended focus of compliance, by broad-based tax compliance programs or by the reception of leaked confidential information by the CRA such as the Panama Papers data leak; and
- Other circumstances in which the CRA considers that the high degree of the taxpayer’s culpability contributed to the failure to comply.
Less certain and more expensive results
If implemented by the CRA, the recommendations of the OCAC would significantly change the current voluntary disclosures program and the result of a disclosure would be more discretionary and expensive. Therefore, taxpayers entertaining the possibility of making a voluntary disclosure may want to act soon as the CRA intends to tighten the criteria for acceptance into the voluntary disclosures program and to be less generous in its application.
For more information about filing a voluntary disclosure download “The Voluntary Disclosures Programs in Canada (And in Québec)“.
In the 2015 Canadian Federal Budget, the Minister of Finance announced a program aimed at easing the administrative burden associated with Canadian withholding on remuneration paid to non-resident employees who performed duties in Canada.
Section 102 of the Income Tax Regulations (“Reg. 102”) requires every employer (whether a resident or non-resident of Canada) that pays remuneration to a non-resident employee, with respect to employment duties performed in Canada, to withhold Canadian taxes and other payroll remittances on that remuneration.
Before these Budget 2015 changes, there was no de-minimus exception and, while a tax treaty may ultimately provide an exemption from tax and payroll remittances, it does not exempt the employer from the initial withholding requirement. In fact, the only way an employer could be exempted from their withholding obligations was to apply, in advance, for a Reg. 102 waiver for each individual non-resident employee that was to perform duties in Canada. In order to obtain this Reg. 102 waiver an application had to be sent to the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) at least 30 days before the start of the employment services or the first payment. Since employee travel is often arranged on short notice, this requirement created an issue for multinational companies doing business in Canada.