Award Winning FASKEN TAX

Kathryn Walker a tax associate in Fasken’s Toronto office has received the Canadian Tax Foundation the “Young Practitioner Award” for her 2018 article “Making or Accepting Payment in Crypto: A GST/HST Risk?”.

The award is granted annually to three tax practitioners with less than ten years of tax experience. The award is given for the best newsletter article which appeared in any of the three Canadian Tax Foundation newsletters in a calendar year and was written solely by author(s) who were young practitioners at the time of publication. 

You can read more about the award and find a link to the article on the Canadian Tax Foundation website.

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As Vaping Replaces Tobacco BC Proposes New Legislation

This month, the British Columbia Health Minister announced plans to introduce legislation that will increase the BC’s provincial tax on vaping products from 7% to 20%. In doing so, BC will become the first province to tax e-cigarettes and vaping.

In all other provinces, vaping demonstrates an interesting inconsistency in some provincial legislation: under some provincial public health legislation vaping is regulated like other tobacco use yet under provincial tax legislation vaping is not treated like tobacco and is only subject to either the provincial HST component or provincial sales tax. Thus, vaping actually provides a much more tax-effective way for a user to get a nicotine fix. Put otherwise, vaping is essentially subsidized nicotine consumption.

Vaping involves the use of a handheld electronic device that heats an “e-liquid”—sometimes called e-substance, e-oil, or e-juice—to a point where it becomes an inhalable vapour.

The e-liquid is typically composed of nicotine, a carrier substance such as glycerine, and flavouring. E-cigarettes and e-liquid are tobacco-free. Most Canadian provinces (Alberta and Saskatchewan are exceptions) have public health legislation that regulates the use of e-cigarettes in a manner that parallels the regulation of cigarettes and other tobacco products.

For example, Ontario’s Smoke-Free Ontario Act, 2017 regulates the sale, advertisement, packaging, and consumption of e-cigarettes, in some ways reproducing restrictions on tobacco use.

In Canada, both federal and provincial governments exercise jurisdiction over health. This dual jurisdiction explains why there are two layers of tobacco legislation: the provincial laws noted above and the federal Tobacco and Vaping Products Act (SC 1997, c. 13), which governs public health aspects of tobacco and vape consumption in Canada.

Although provincial public health legislation regulates e-cigarettes as it does tobacco cigarettes, provincial tax legislation does not. In all 10 provinces, tobacco sales are taxed under special tobacco tax legislation, and in most provinces tobacco sales are also subject to GST/HST. For example, in Ontario a pack of 20 cigarettes is subject to a tobacco tax of $3.30 and an additional 13 percent HST. However, vaping liquid, or e-liquid, does not come within the scope of tobacco tax legislation, which is limited to tobacco products.  As a result without new legislation, vape products escape the additional taxed levied on tobacco products.

As explained above, e-cigarettes and e-liquid are tobacco-free, and while the nicotine in e-liquid may give smokers a sensation similar to that of a traditional cigarette, the nicotine is not a tobacco product. As a result, while sales of e-cigarettes and e-liquid are subject to GST/HST, they are not subject to a special tobacco tax.

This means that now as more Canadians have shifted from traditional smoking to vaping, they are escaping the financial burden of tobacco taxation.  In turn, this means that provinces are losing their tobacco tax base. However, it is estimated that BC’s new legislation will generate roughly $10 million a year in new tax revenue.  We won’t be surprised to see other provinces follow BC’s lead.

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Tax Treatment of Cryptocurrency Mining

On August 8, 2019, the Canada Revenue Agency (the “CRA”) released an Income Tax Ruling, 2018-0776661I7, clarifying its view on the taxation of cryptocurrency miners.

The ruling responded to a taxpayer inquiry, asking whether a bitcoin miner should include the value of mined bitcoin in income at the time it is received.

Bitcoin miners have an essential role in both the creation and the maintenance of the block-chain technology, which is the foundation of bitcoin itself. When miners, using their computers, solve computation-intensive math problems on the bitcoin network, they produce or create new bitcoin. In addition, in solving the math problems, bitcoin miners verify the network’s transaction information, securing the bitcoin payment network.

One might say that miners create bitcoin, in which case mining bitcoin would not be a taxable event. Some in the cryptocurrency sector have analogized bitcoin mining with mining for gold. However, in the ruling the CRA takes the position that miners earn bitcoin, or receive bitcoin as consideration for their work in validating transactions on the block-chain, with the result that miners must include any bitcoin they mine in their income at the time it is received. In other words, the CRA ignores the “creation” element of mining.

The CRA further advises that the value of the bitcoin for tax purposes is determined by the barter rules, which in this case would require that a miner bring into income the value of the mining services rendered or the value of the bitcoin received. Since in most cases the value of the bitcoin will be more readily valued, this is the amount to be brought into income.

While many will find the CRA’s position to be obvious given the miners play a key role in servicing the blockchain, those who have relied on the gold mining analogy should note the tax consequences of the CRA position. Another interesting issue is the extent to which “miners” of other cryptocurrencies that may use other methods of creation, can rely on this ruling. In either case, the additional clarity providing by the ruling is useful to everyone working in the cryptocurrency space.

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Affaire Bitton Trust : portée extraterritoriale des pouvoirs de Revenu Québec?

La récente décision de la Cour suprême du Canada dans 1068754 Alberta Ltd. c. Québec (Agence du revenu)[1] confirme le droit de Revenu Québec d’envoyer une demande péremptoire à une institution située en dehors du Québec sans que cette demande n’ait une portée extraterritoriale.

Faits

En 2014, Revenu Québec a envoyé une demande péremptoire de renseignements et de documents en vertu de l’article 39 de la Loi sur l’administration fiscale (Québec) à une succursale de la Banque Nationale du Canada située à Calgary. Par cette demande, Revenu Québec cherchait à établir le lieu de résidence de la fiducie DGGMC Bitton Trust (la « Fiducie »), qui tient un compte bancaire à cette succursale, et à déterminer si elle devait payer de l’impôt au Québec. Revenu Québec a envoyé sa demande à la succursale de Calgary plutôt qu’au Québec afin de se conformer à la Loi sur les banques (Canada), qui exige que certains documents concernant des clients des banques soient envoyés à la succursale de tenue du compte.

La Fiducie s’est opposée à la demande de Revenu Québec jusqu’en Cour suprême du Canada pour le motif qu’elle outrepassait sa compétence. Selon la Fiducie, la Loi sur les banques (Canada) exige que la succursale d’une banque doit être traitée comme une entité distincte de la banque considérée dans son ensemble. En conséquence, elle prétend que Revenu Québec a outrepassé sa compétence en envoyant sa demande à l’extérieur du Québec.

Décision

La Cour Suprême du Canada, sous la plume du juge Rowe, a rejeté l’appel de la Fiducie.

Selon la Cour, la Loi sur les banques (Canada) contraignait Revenu Québec à envoyer sa demande à la succursale de la Banque Nationale du Canada à Calgary. En se soumettant à cette obligation, Revenu Québec n’a pas agi de façon extraterritoriale. Le fait qu’une mesure prise par Revenu Québec dans l’exercice de ses pouvoirs ait des répercussions à l’extérieur du Québec ne rend pas automatiquement une telle mesure extraterritoriale.

De l’avis de la Cour, le facteur déterminant en cause était le lieu où l’exécution de la demande de Revenu Québec peut être réclamée. La Banque Nationale du Canada exerce des activités au Québec, et les exigences procédurales de la Loi sur les banques ne devraient pas empêcher Revenu Québec de transmettre une demande péremptoire à une personne faisant affaires sur son territoire.

Il est clair pour la Cour que la Banque Nationale du Canada forme une seule et même entité qui ne devrait généralement pas être distinguée de ses succursales. Les faits en cause ne justifiait pas que la succursale de Calgary soit traitée comme une entité distincte afin que les objectifs de la Loi sur les banques (Canada) soit satisfaits. C’est à la Banque Nationale du Canada que Revenu Québec a adressé sa demande, peu importe où la demande fut envoyée.

Conclusion

Il appert clairement du texte du jugement que la décision de la Cour, favorable à Revenu Québec, accorde une grande importance au fait que la Banque Nationale du Canada fait affaires au Québec. La Cour n’ayant pas statué sur la situation inverse, il y a lieu de se demander si la demande de Revenu Québec à la succursale de Calgary aurait eu une portée extraterritoriale si aucune activité n’était exercée au Québec.


[1]       2019 CSC 37.

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OECD Public Consultation Document and Public Commentary on the Tax Challenges of Digitalisation

In February and March of 2019, the OECD organized a public consultation process, releasing a consultation document on February 13, 2019, inviting public comments up until March 6, 2019, and holding a conference where industry experts presented key issues on March 13 and 14, 2019. The consultation document sets out a range of possible solutions to what have been identified as important issues for managing the tax challenges of an international digital economy. Despite the limited time frame of the consultation process, approximately 200 comments were received.

Background

The OECD/G20 Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) Project consists of 15 discrete action areas which target gaps in the international tax system that enable the shifting of profits away from the jurisdiction of the underlying economic activity. Action 1 of the BEPS Project is focused on tax challenges associated with digitalisation.

The Task Force on the Digital Economy (TFDE) developed the 2015 BEPS Action 1 Report, “Addressing the Tax Challenges of the Digital Economy”, which was released in October 2015 as part of the full BEPS Package and was endorsed by the G20 Leaders in November 2015.

In June 2016, the OECD/G20 Inclusive Framework on BEPS (the “Inclusive Framework”) was established to collaborate on the implementation of the BEPS Package and the mandate of the TFDE was extended to include the delivery of an interim report by 2018 and a final report in 2020.

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