On November 5, 2017, a massive leak of financial documents referred to as the Paradise Papers was released to the public. The leak involves multiple jurisdictions and contains nearly 13.4 million confidential electronic documents relating to offshore investment. The Paradise Papers comes largely from Appleby, a law firm based in Bermuda, and from the corporate registries of 19 tax havens.
The Paradise Papers cover the period from 1950 to 2016 and involve over 120,000 people and companies across the world, including government officials, entertainment personalities and corporate giants. It also involves more than 3,000 Canadian individuals and corporations, which is five times more than the ones from the Panama Papers.
On November 3, 2017, just a few days prior to this new leak, the Canada Revenue Agency (the “CRA”) delivered a statement (document) to highlight its work to combat tax evasion and tax avoidance. The CRA stated having “currently more than 990 audits and more than 42 criminal investigations related to offshore underway”, 123 of which involve participants and facilitators named in the Panama Papers. In light of the recent Paradise Papers leak, the CRA already announced that it is reviewing the data and promised to take “appropriate action”.
Furthermore, as part of the CRA’s strategy to combat offshore tax evasion and aggressive tax planning, the CRA announced earlier this year that a revised voluntary disclosures program policy would be introduced in 2018. The proposed changes were initially supposed to be implemented on January 1, 2018, but the CRA is delaying the implementation until March 1, 2018. The formal keys changes confirmed by the CRA will :
- eliminate the « no-names » disclosure process;
- require payment of the estimated tax at the time of the application;
- cancel relief if it is subsequently discovered that the application was not complete due to a misrepresentation; and
- create a two tracks system by introducing a « General Program » for minor non-compliance and a « Limited Program » for major non-compliance with limited relief in certain circumstances;
Such circumstances could include, for example :
- Situations where large 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 Paradise Papers data leak; and
- Other circumstances in which the CRA considers that there was a high degree of guilt in the taxpayer’s conduct contributing to his failure to comply.
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.
A GST/HST or income tax audit may result in an assessment that the taxpayer does not agree with. In this situation, it would be in the best interest of the taxpayer to object to a tax assessment by following these steps:
A tax audit on a specific subject can be short (an audit of the business promotional expenses and advertising) or if it is more general in nature, it can be longer (for example dealing with unreported income). During the audit stage, the taxpayer will be asked to provide documentary evidence, bank statements and explanations supporting his position in relation to the audited items. Many audits go well, however, some do not.
Generally, prior to the issuance of a notice of assessment following the audit, the auditor issues a draft assessment and invites the taxpayer to make representations prior to a predetermined date (usually 21 days). The taxpayer should take this opportunity to make representations explaining why he disagrees. It is preferable to make written representations and to submit any additional documents at this stage. It is wise to obtain professional assistance from an expert in the field to help with the representations during this period.
Following the representations on the draft assessment, it is possible that the Revenue agency (Quebec or Canada) will issue an assessment. Whether it is for income tax or GST/HST, this assessment carries interest at the prescribed rate starting on the day on the notice. Whether the taxpayer contests it or not, it is generally advisable to pay the amounts assessed in order to avoid an accumulation of interest. Furthermore, tax laws permit the imposition of costly penalties in certain circumstances, for example, gross negligence, which can form part of the assessment.