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)“.
Duties on Transfers of Immovables in Québec: Implementation of Previously Announced Amendments
On November 16, 2016, the Minister, Carlos J. Leitão, tabled Bill 112 giving effect to several fiscal measures announced in the Budget Speech delivered on March 17, 2016.
Among the measures set out in Bill 112 are the modifications announced to the Act respecting duties on transfers of immovables (CQLR c. D-15.1) (the “Act”). Bill 112 must still go before a parliamentary commission before its adoption.
The measures announced in the Budget Speech revolve around the following three main changes:
- Imposing mutation duties at the time of the transfer of an immovable, as opposed to the time of its registration in the land register – thereby imposing off-title transfers of an immovable;
- Amending the conditions of certain exemptions from payment of mutation duties, in particular in respect of transfers between closely-related parties, and introducing a requirement that the exemption conditions underlying the exemption be maintained for a period of 24 months following an exempt transfer;
- Introducing new conditions applicable to exemptions, specifically in respect of transfers between former de facto (common-law) spouses and transfers in favour of an international governmental organization that has entered into an agreement with the Government with respect to its establishment in Québec.
It is worthwhile noting that the measures will only apply to transfers of immovables occurring after March 17, 2016.
Bill 112, entitled An Act to give effect mainly to fiscal measures announced in the Budget Speech delivered on 17 March 2016, details the means by which these amendments will be implemented. One should note that Bill 112 will only come into force on the date of its passage by the National Assembly and its assent thereto by the Lieutenant-Governor.
Droits sur les mutations immobilières : Mise en œuvre des modifications annoncées
Le ministre Carlos J. Leitão a déposé le 16 novembre 2016 le Projet de loi 112 mettant en œuvre certaines mesures fiscales annoncées lors du discours sur le budget du 17 mars 2016.
Parmi les mesures reflétés au Projet de loi 112, on retrouve les modifications annoncées à la Loi concernant les droits sur les mutations immobilières (CLRQ c. D-15.1) (la « Loi »). Le Projet de loi 112 doit encore être examiné en commission parlementaire avant son adoption.
Ces modifications annoncées au discours du budget sont principalement de trois ordres :
- Imposer le droit sur les mutations au moment du transfert d’un immeuble, et non au moment de son inscription au registre foncier – ayant pour effet d’imposer les transferts d’immeubles effectués hors titres;
- Modifier certaines conditions d’exonération du droit sur les mutations, notamment entre parties étroitement liées, et d’insérer une exigence du maintien de la condition d’exonération pour une période de 24 mois suivant un transfert exonéré;
- Introduire de nouvelles conditions d’exonération, notamment à l’égard des transferts effectués entre ex-conjoints de fait et de transferts effectués en faveur d’une organisation internationale gouvernementale qui a conclu une entente avec le gouvernement relativement à son établissement au Québec.
Fait à noter, les mesures ont effet à compter des transferts d’immeubles réalisés après le 17 mars 2016.
Le Projet de loi 112, intitulé Loi donnant suite principalement à des mesures fiscales annoncées à l’occasion du discours sur le budget du 17 mars 2016, vient détailler la mécanique par laquelle ces modifications seront mise en œuvre. À noter que le Projet de loi 112 n’entrera en vigueur que suite à son adoption par l’Assemblée nationale et sa sanction par le Lieutenant-gouverneur.
A huge data leak from a Panama-based law firm has exposed billions in secret, offshore transactions involving multiple political leaders around the world and approximately 350 Canadians with offshore tax haven investments.
Previous leaks of offshore activities have led the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) to engage in multiple tax audits targeting wealthy Canadians, such as clients of the LGT Bank, the Swiss HSBC Bank, and recently clients of one international accounting firm, just to name a few. This time should be no different. CRA was already instructed to get the leaked data in Panama Papers.
Many OECD-participating countries have engaged in a fight against tax evasion, treaty shopping and base erosion and profit-shifting (BEPS). Combined with the upcoming exchanges of financial information between countries starting in 2017 and 2018, Canada’s “new” offshore tax compliance section since 2013 and the offshore tax informant program (OTIP) rewarding whistleblowers, wealthy Canadians and businesses engaged in aggressive tax planning are more likely than ever to be audited.
In addition, the 2016 Federal budget proposed a plan to “improve tax compliance, prevent underground economic activity, tax evasion and aggressive tax planning,” requiring an investment of $444.4 million over five years to be used by the CRA for:
- hiring additional auditors and specialists
- developing robust business intelligence infrastructure
- increasing audit activities
- improving the quality of investigative work that targets criminal tax evaders
The expected additional revenue from such measures is $2.6 billion.
To most Canadians, these measures may sound perfectly legitimate. But many taxpayers in the province of Québec will hear a familiar tune that evokes unpleasant memories.
The United States came down hard on Swiss banks after receiving, from various whistleblowers, Swiss bank data evidencing U.S. citizens had hidden fortunes in Swiss accounts. Swiss banks were fined billions for assisting U.S. citizens in evading taxes and now want to avoid repetition of this scenario when the exchange of information begins in 2018 with other countries.
The automatic exchange of information between Canada and Switzerland will begin in 2018[i]. Swiss banks have therefore put in place various measures to protect themselves and show, in a near future, that they did all they could to encourage Canadian clients to disclose offshore assets.
Most large Swiss banks have already requested from their Canadian clients evidence that their Swiss accounts are reported in Canada or that a voluntary disclosure has been initiated. This is generally done by having a tax professional confirm to the bank that a disclosure of the account has been filed for the client with the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA).