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 Industrielle Alliance vs. Mazraani and MNR, the Federal Court of Appeal recently quashed a Tax Court of Canada decision on the basis that the trial judge violated the linguistic rights of both witnesses and counsel for Industrielle Alliance. The reasons for judgment can be found here in English and French.
The Tax Court of Canada decision
Before the Tax Court of Canada (TCC), Kassem Mazraani appealed the Minister’s determination that he was not engaged in insurable employment while working for Industrielle Alliance between April and November 2012. Industrielle was an intervenor to the appeal and had taken the position that the Minister’s determination was correct since an independent contractor agreement had been concluded with Mazraani. The appeal was heard under the informal procedure before Justice Archambault and the hearing lasted 6 days. Mazraani filed his appeal in English, the Minister’s reply was in English also and Industrielle’ s intervention was in French.
In a massive 160 page decision, the TCC concluded that Mazraani was engaged in insurable employment.
Dans la récente décision Industrielle Alliance, Assurance et services financiers Inc. c. Mazraanim et M.N.R., la Cour d’appel fédérale annule une décision de la Cour canadienne de l’impôt au motif que le juge de première instance a enfreint les droits linguistiques des témoins et de l’avocat de l’Industrielle Alliance. Les motifs du jugement peuvent être consultés ici en anglais et en français.
Décision de la Cour canadienne de l’impôt
Devant la Cour canadienne de l’impôt (CCI), Kassem Mazraani en appelait de la décision du Ministre selon laquelle il n’occupait pas un emploi assurable auprès d’Industrielle Alliance durant la période d’avril à novembre 2012. Industrielle Alliance était une intervenante dans le cadre de l’appel à la CCI. Elle soutenait que la décision du Ministre était juste, puisque l’entreprise avait conclu un contrat d’entrepreneur indépendant avec Mazraani. L’appel a été entendu selon la procédure informelle par le juge Archambault et l’audition a duré six (6) jours. L’avis d’appel de Mazraani était en anglais, la réponse du Ministre était aussi en anglais et l’avis d’intervention d’Industrielle Alliance était en français.
Dans une décision imposante de 160 pages, la CCI a conclu que Mazraani avait occupé un emploi assurable.
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).