Category Archives: Canada

Canada Revenue Agency Answers Questions About COVID–Related Extensions for GST/HST and Customs Payments

Further to the announcement on March 27, 2020 that GST/HST and Customs Duties payment deadlines would be extended due to the COVID pandemic, the Canada Revenue Agency has provided some additional guidance in the form of a Question and Answer document posted on the Canada Revenue Agency website.

The document deals with the delays granted to payments of tax, but also to questions of the processing of returns, the payment of refunds and the granting of rebates. One of the key things for all taxpayers to remember is that the due dates for the filing of returns has not changed, only the requirement to make payments of tax without incurring interest charges or penalties has changed. Excise taxes and duties are all still due at the ordinary times.

Do not hesitate to contact us if you need further information about the changes to your tax obligations during the COVID Pandemic.

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Recent Canadian and Quebec Tax Measures

During the week of March 23, 2020, the Canadian and Quebec governments announced a series of additional tax measures to further strengthen the economy in the wake of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. A number of procedural announcements relating to statutory deadlines and limitation periods have also been made by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) and Quebec Revenue Agency (Revenu Québec). A summary of these new measures is provided below. Summaries of previously announced measures may be accessed here (Canada) and here (Quebec).

Federal

Taxation of the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB)

The federal government announced the introduction of the CERB on March 18, 2020. The CERB will provide a taxable benefit of $2,000 a month for up to 4 months to support workers (including self-employed individuals) who lose their income as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Following conflicting reports in this regard, the government confirmed on March 27, 2020 that the CERB will be taxable for claimants, but that no income tax withholding will be made on the CERB by the federal government.

Enhanced Temporary Wage Subsidy for Eligible Employers

On March 18, 2020, the federal government announced that a temporary wage subsidy (TWS) would be introduced for eligible employers in an amount equal to 10% of salary and other remuneration paid to Canadian employees. The stated purpose of the TWS is to help Canadians remain employed. It improves the cash flow of eligible employers (which include Canadian-controlled private corporations eligible for the small business deduction, individuals other than trusts, certain partnerships, non-profit organizations and registered charities) by allowing them to deduct the amount of the subsidy from periodic source deduction remittances payable to the CRA over the coming months. The maximum subsidy was initially set at $1,375 per employee, and $25,000 per employer.

On March 27, 2020, Prime Minister Trudeau announced that the amount of the TWS will be increased to 75% (as opposed to 10%) of salary and other remuneration paid to Canadian employees. It remains to be seen whether the maximum subsidy of $1,375 per employee and $25,000 per employer will be increased as well.

Further details in this regard will be provided once they become available.

Postponement of GST/HST Remittances

The federal government is deferring remittances of the following amounts to June 30, 2020:

  • Goods and Services Tax (GST)/Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) owing in respect of the February, March and April 2020 reporting periods, for monthly filers;
  • GST/HST owing in respect of the January 1, 2020 through March 31, 2020 reporting period, for quarterly filers; and
  • GST/HST owing in respect of the previous fiscal year and installments of GST/HST in respect of the current fiscal year, for annual filers whose GST/HST return or installment is due in March, April or May 2020.

This relief measure does not clearly address the situation of certain registrants, such as those who file on a quarterly basis but whose fiscal year-end is not December 31. Such businesses should contact the CRA to confirm whether they benefit from the deferral.   

The proposed measure also does not appear to extend the deadline for filing GST/HST returns.

Directors of corporate taxpayers should bear in mind that they may be held jointly and severally liable to pay any unremitted GST/HST, as well as any interest or penalties relating thereto.

Postponement of Import GST and Customs Duty Payments

The federal government has also announced that it is deferring the payment deadline for import GST and customs duties in respect of March, April and May statements of accounts until June 30, 2020.

Filing Notices of Objection with CRA

On March 28, 2020, the CRA announced that the deadline for filing notices of objection due March 18, 2020 or later would be extended until June 30, 2020.

Tax Court of Canada Procedures

On March 23, 2020, the Tax Court of Canada (TCC) released a Practice Direction and Order announcing that all sittings and conferences calls scheduled between March 16, 2020 and May 1, 2020 inclusively are cancelled and that the Court and its Registry offices will be closed until further notice.

The TCC also announced that it is suspending, from March 16, 2020 to May 1, 2020, the time limits provided for in the Tax Court of Canada Rules and any TCC orders and directions made prior to March 16, 2020.

The statutory deadlines for filing notices of appeal from income tax assessments and reassessments and GST assessments and reassessments continue to apply.  The notices of appeal required to be filed within these statutory deadlines must be filed electronically or by telecopier.  Where no statutory deadline applies, taxpayers are asked to wait and file their notices of appeal once the Court resumes its operations.

Quebec

Postponement of QST Returns and Remittances

In Information Bulletin 2020-5 dated March 27, 2020, the Quebec government announced that it would allow businesses to postpone the filing of Québec Sales Tax (QST) returns and the remittance of QST due between March 27, 2020 (inclusively) and June 30, 2020. As mentioned above, it does not appear that the equivalent federal relief measure extends the filing deadline for GST/HST returns. Given that Quebec taxpayers report GST and QST on the same return, it is not clear whether any substantial relief will be afforded to them from a reporting standpoint. Further information regarding the possible harmonization of the federal and Quebec relief measures is expected in the coming days.

Directors of corporate taxpayers should bear in mind that they may be held jointly and severally liable to pay any unremitted QST, as well as any interest or penalties relating thereto.

Acceleration of Tax Credits and Tax Refunds

In a press release dated March 27, 2020, Revenu Québec announced that it would accelerate the processing of tax credits and tax refunds claimed by businesses. No specific timeline has been announced in this regard.

Filing Corporate Income Tax Returns and Notices of Objection with Revenu Québec

Revenu Québec also announced in the above-mentioned press release that the deadline to take “administrative tax actions” (gestes fiscaux administratifs) will be extended to June 1, 2020.

The press release clarifies that this measure applies to corporate income tax returns that would otherwise be due between March 27 and June 1, 2020. Interest and penalties are therefore not expected to apply during such period in respect of such returns.

No further clarification is provided with respect to other administrative tax actions targeted by this measure. Although it may arguably include the filing of a notice of objection, absent specific legislative action or further clarification from Revenu Québec, it is recommended that taxpayers continue to file such notices by the 90-day statutory deadline to preserve their right to challenge any notice of assessment or reassessment.

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Proposed Tax Measures to Stabilize the Economy During COVID-19 (Canada)

On March 18, 2020, the Canadian government announced economic measures to help stabilize the Canadian economy in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. These measures are intended to provide up to $27 billion in direct support to Canadian workers and businesses. This newsflash will provide a brief summary of the key tax measures that were included with this announcement. Similar measures were announced on March 17, 2020 by the Quebec government. Fasken commentary on the Quebec measures can also be found on our website.

Tax Return Filing Deadlines

With 2019 tax return filing deadlines approaching, the Canada Revenue Agency (“CRA”) will defer the filing due date for the 2019 tax returns of individuals, including certain trusts. For certain individuals (other than trusts), the return filing due date will be deferred from April 30 until June 1, 2020. Self-employed individuals (and their spouses) are unaffected by these measures as the filing due date for 2019 tax returns remains June 15, 2020.

For trusts having a taxation year ending on December 31, 2019, the return filing due date will be extended from March 30, 2020 to May 1, 2020.

Upcoming Income Tax Liabilities

CRA will permit all taxpayers (including businesses) to defer, until after August 31, 2020, the payment of any amounts on account their income tax liabilities that become owing on or after March 18, 2020 and before September, 2020. This relief applies to income tax balances due, as well as instalments on account of such taxes. CRA will not charge interest or penalties on these amounts during this period.

It should be noted that the timing of payment of other Canadian taxes including GST/HST, payroll taxes and non-resident withholding taxes are not deferred.

Suspension of Audit Activity

CRA will not contact any small or medium businesses to initiate any post assessment GST/HST or income tax audits for the next four weeks (ending April 15, 2020) and the CRA will temporarily suspend audit interaction with taxpayers and representatives for the “vast majority of businesses”.

Other Tax Proposals

Unlike the administrative relief described above, some of the measures announced require Parliamentary approval. The Canadian government has proposed to provide a special payment by early May 2020 through the Goods and Services Tax credit (“GSTC”). The proposal is to double the maximum annual GSTC payment amounts for the 2019-20 benefit year. The Minister of Finance (Canada) estimates that the average increase to income for those benefiting from this measure will be approximately $400 for single individuals and nearly $600 for couples.

The Canadian government is also proposing to increase the maximum annual Canada Child Benefit (“CCB”) payment amounts for the 2019-20 benefit year by $300 per child.

Finally, these measures contain a proposal to provide “eligible small employers” a wage subsidy for a period of three months. The announcement states that eligible small employers will include corporations eligible for the small business deduction, as well as non-profit organizations and charities but provides no further specifics. The proposed subsidy is to be equal to 10% of remuneration paid during that period, up to a maximum subsidy of $1,375 per employee and $25,000 per employer. The announcement does not stipulate when the three month period will begin but provides that eligible businesses will be able to deduct the amount of such subsidy from the income tax withholdings that they would otherwise remit in respect of their employees’ remuneration.

Canada’s prime minister indicated that all of the major political parties in Parliament support these measures and will likely reconvene Parliament to approve them in the coming days.

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Alta Energy: FCA Confirms that Treaty Shopping is not Abusive (for now …)

On February 12, 2020, in Canada v Alta Energy Luxembourg S.A.R.L. (2020 FCA 43), the Federal Court of Appeal (“FCA”) unanimously held that the general anti-avoidance rule (“GAAR”) did not deny a capital gains exemption claimed by a Luxembourg holding company under the Convention between the Government of Canada and the Government of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg for the Avoidance of Double Taxation and the Prevention of Fiscal Evasion with respect to Taxes on Income and on Capital (the “Treaty”) following a disposition of “taxable Canadian property” that consisted of shares of a wholly-owned Canadian subsidiary that principally derived its value from “Canadian resource property”.

Although the formation of the Luxembourg holding company and its subsequent acquisition of the subsidiary’s shares were tax-motivated, the FCA stated that treaty shopping, in itself, does not trigger the application of the GAAR. It found that the text, context and purpose of the relevant Treaty provisions,[1] as mutually chosen by Canada and Luxembourg, were not frustrated by the avoidance transactions at issue. It concluded that the tax-free result was therefore appropriate in the circumstances.

Background Facts

Alta Energy Partners, LLC (“Alta US Holdco”), a Delaware limited liability company, formed Alta Energy Partners Ltd. (“Alta Canada”) for the purpose of developing shale oil and natural gas properties in Alberta.

A restructuring was implemented after it was discovered that the US holding company structure exposed foreign investors to Canadian income tax. To fix this, ownership of Alta Canada was transferred to a newly-formed Luxembourg holding company, Alta Luxembourg S.A.R.L. (“Alta Lux”).[2] A year later, Alta Lux sold the shares of Alta Canada to a third party at a substantial gain.

It was not disputed that the shares of Alta Canada principally derived their value from Canadian resource property and, as a result, were “taxable Canadian property”. However, Alta Lux took the position that the capital gain was not taxable in Canada due to the exemption set out in Article 13(4) of the Treaty, which provides as follows:

4. Gains derived by a resident of a Contracting State from the alienation of:

(a) shares (other than shares listed on an approved stock exchange in the other Contracting State) forming part of a substantial interest in the capital stock of a company the value of which shares is derived principally from immovable property situated in that other State; […]

may be taxed in that other State. For the purposes of this paragraph, the term “immovable property” does not include property (other than rental property) in which the business of the company […] was carried on; and a substantial interest exists when the resident and persons related thereto own 10 per cent or more of the shares of any class or the capital stock of a company.

The Canada Revenue Agency reassessed Alta Lux on the basis that the Treaty exemption did not apply and raised the GAAR in the alternative.

Tax Court of Canada

At the Tax Court of Canada, the Crown argued that the Treaty exemption did not apply because Alta Canada did not carry on activities in its shale property, as it was generally set aside for future drilling and extraction. Failing that, it argued that the exemption should be applied on a licence-by-licence basis[3], with the exemption only qualifying for those sections of the resource reserve that had drilling and extraction activities.

The Court dismissed these arguments, largely on the basis of a government position paper that contradicted the Crown’s restrictive interpretation, and the commercial reality of resource exploration and development. Accordingly, it held that Alta Lux was entitled to claim the exemption under Article 13(4) of the Treaty.

With respect to the GAAR, the parties agreed that the restructuring of Alta Canada under Alta Lux resulted in a tax benefit and was an avoidance transaction in the sense that it could not be said to have been reasonably undertaken or arranged primarily for a bona fide purpose other than to obtain a tax benefit. The only dispute was whether the restructuring resulted in a misuse or an abuse of the Income Tax Act (Canada) (the “Act”) and/or the Treaty.

The Crown argued in the affirmative because Alta Lux (i) was created for the sole purpose of avoiding Canadian income tax on the capital gain; (ii) was merely a conduit used to pass on the tax exemption to its ultimate shareholders who were not entitled to claim Treaty benefits themselves; and (iii) paid no tax in Luxembourg.

The Court ruled that there was no misuse or abuse of the Act because, having found that the Treaty exemption applied, the Act operated as intended (i.e., the Alta Canada shares were “treaty-protected property” and therefore not taxable in Canada).

The Court also held that the Treaty provisions were not misused or abused. It stated that there could be no misuse or abuse of the Treaty exemption in Article 13(4) if Alta Lux was a resident of Luxembourg for the purposes of the Treaty (which the Crown did not challenge) and all of the other requirements of the exemption were met. The Court also stated that the absence of foreign tax paid was not relevant to the GAAR analysis, and there was no evidence to support the Crown’s claim that Alta Lux was acting as agent (i.e., a conduit) for its ultimate shareholders.

Federal Court of Appeal (“FCA”)

The only issue before the FCA was whether the GAAR applied to Alta Lux’s use of the Treaty exemption.

The FCA rejected the Crown’s suggestion that there had been an abuse of the Treaty, on the basis that the purpose of the Treaty exemption was to encourage entities who have the potential to realize income and have commercial and economic ties in Luxembourg to invest in Canada.

First, it did not accept that a Luxembourg taxpayer must make an investment in a Canadian company in order to claim the exemption. Second, the FCA did not accept that a taxpayer may only access the exemption if it actually pays tax on the relevant capital gain in its country of residence. And third, the FCA did not accept that the exemption should only benefit Luxembourg residents who have commercial or economic ties to Luxembourg.

The FCA held that the object, spirit and purpose of the Treaty exemption are no broader than its text, such that a Luxembourg entity will qualify for the exemption if: (a) it is a resident of Luxembourg for the purposes of the Treaty, (b) it holds a “substantial interest” in the corporation the shares of which are disposed of, and (c) the value of the corporation’s shares is principally derived from immovable property (other than rental property) situated in Canada in which the corporation’s business is carried on. Alta Lux having met all of these conditions, the FCA dismissed the Crown’s appeal.

Of equal importance, the FCA also commented on the Crown’s perceived abuse of Alta Lux’s treaty shopping. Although it acknowledged that the Department of Finance has signalled that it would take steps to curb this practice, it found that no such steps had been formally taken during the period in dispute. The FCA further stated that treaty shopping is not, in itself, abusive. In this regard, it cited with approval the TCC’s decision in MIL (Investments) S.A. (2006 TCC 460, aff’d by 2007 FCA 236), which said in part that “[t]here is nothing inherently proper or improper with selecting one foreign regime over another” and “the shopping or selection of a treaty to minimize tax on its own cannot be viewed as being abusive”. Instead, “[i]t is the use of the selected treaty that must be examined.” Having found that Alta Lux used the Treaty (and, in particular, the exemption under Article 13(4)) as the contracting states had intended, the FCA Court concluded that the application of the GAAR could not be justified in the circumstances.

Commentary

Although this decision is nothing short of a resounding victory for the taxpayer, its long-term practical impact is questionable.

Importantly, this decision was made without reference to the Multilateral Convention to Implement Tax Treaty Related Measures to Prevent Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (the “MLI”) and its principal purpose test (“PPT”), neither of which were in effect at the time of the transactions in question.

The PPT is a broad anti-avoidance rule which provides that a benefit under a tax treaty shall not be granted if it is reasonable to conclude that obtaining the benefit was one of the principal purposes of the relevant arrangement or transaction, unless it is established that granting the benefit would be in accordance with the object and purpose of the relevant provisions of the treaty.[4]

Furthermore, the MLI provides that all “Covered Tax Agreements” will be amended to include the following text (which expressly prohibits treaty shopping) in their preamble:[5]

“Intending to eliminate double taxation with respect to the taxes covered by this agreement without creating opportunities for non-taxation or reduced taxation through tax evasion or avoidance (including through treaty-shopping arrangements aimed at obtaining reliefs provided in this agreement for the indirect benefit of residents of third jurisdictions),”. [Emphasis added.]

The MLI became effective for Canada’s tax treaties with many countries, including Luxembourg, (a) for withholding taxes on January 1, 2020, and (b) for other taxes (including capital gains taxes), for taxation years beginning on or after June 1, 2020 (which, for calendar year taxpayers, would be January 1, 2021).

The MLI raises questions about its impact on the outcome of the FCA’s decision and beyond, including the following:

  • If the MLI had been in effect at the time of the Alta Canada sale, would the result have been the same?
  • If not, what if the Luxembourg holding company structure had been implemented from the outset?
  • Will foreign courts and tax authorities apply the PPT in a consistent manner across a common set of facts?

Although the FCA’s decision may significantly curtail the Minister’s ability to challenge treaty shopping under the GAAR moving forward, the same cannot be said with respect to the PPT. The impact of the MLI, however, may not be known until many years from now, once tax assessments make their way through court systems in Canada and abroad.[6] In the meantime, taxpayers may need to rely on rulings and other administrative positions for guidance.


[1]       Article 1 (Persons Covered), Article 4 (Resident) and Article 13 (Capital Gains).

[2]       The transfer was taxable but when it occurred there was no accrued gain on the shares of Alta Canada.

[3]       Each licence gave Alta Canada rights to specific sections of the resource reserve.

[4]       MLI, Article 7(1).

[5]       MLI, Article 6(1).

[6]       The GAAR, which was introduced in Canada in 1988 and was first adjudicated by the Supreme Court of Canada in 2005 in Canada Trustco Mortgage Co., may offer a useful timeline in this regard.

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Fiscalité & immobilier – les autorités fiscales vérifient minutieusement les transactions immobilières

Suite aux annonces du Budget 2019, l’Agence du Revenu du Canada (« l’ARC ») a lancé un Groupe de travail sur l’immobilier dont la mission est de dissuader le non-respect des règles fiscales dans le marché immobilier. Le gouvernement fédéral a alloué des fonds et des ressources considérables pour examiner les transactions immobilières dans lesquelles les parties n’ont pas respecté les règles de l’art. 

Voici le questionnaire (disponible en anglais seulement) de l’ARC envoyé à des personnes et des sociétés sélectionnées dans le cadre du processus de vérification. Le questionnaire est vaste, contient plus de 35 questions et demande au contribuable de fournir une documentation importante.

Ce programme de vérification des transactions immobilières est spécifiquement ciblé et peut avoir un impact sur :

  • Les promoteurs et développeurs immobiliers en ce qui concerne le respect des taxes de ventes;
  • Les contribuables impliqués dans des activités de flips immobiliers;
  • Les contribuables percevant des commissions dans le secteur immobilier; et
  • Les contribuables qui déclarent la vente d’une résidence principale.

Compte tenu de ce qui précède, il est primordial de structurer et de planifier vos transactions immobilières en conformité avec la législation fiscale en vigueur. Si vous avez reçu une demande d’information similaire, il est recommandé de demander des conseils et des avis juridiques avant de répondre au questionnaire.

Nicolas Simard possède une vaste expérience en litige fiscal de toute nature concernant l’impôt sur le revenu, les taxes à la consommation ainsi que les divulgations volontaires. Il peut être joint au 514-397-5288.


David H. Benarroch est spécialisé dans de nombreux domaines de la fiscalité, notamment le contentieux fiscal, la conformité fiscale et la planification fiscale.

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