On January 12, 2018, the Canadian Federal Court of Appeal (the “FCA”) released its decision in North Shore Power Group Inc. v. Canada, 2018 FCA 9 (“North Shore Decision”), which addressed the tax implications to a purchaser of receiving credit notes from an insolvent supplier. The FCA’s unanimous decision also sheds light on the scope of a purchaser’s obligation for unremitted goods and services tax/harmonized sales tax (“HST”) and illustrates how the textual, contextual and purposive approach to statutory interpretation is applied by Canadian courts. The decision also serves as a useful reminder of the practical considerations for purchasers, as well as suppliers, in using credit notes when dealing with refunds.
HST overpayments generally
By way of background, HST overpayments made by a purchaser to a supplier are generally addressed in one of two ways: (1) the purchaser files a rebate with the Canada Revenue Agency (the “CRA”) for the tax (an option that many suppliers favour), or (2) the supplier can refund the tax to the purchaser and claim the refunded tax back in its HST return (an option that many purchasers favour). The rules relating to option (2) are set out in section 232 of Part IX of the Excise Tax Act (Canada) (the “HST legislation”), and were the subject of the North Shore Decision.
Section 232 of the HST legislation
Subsection 232(3) is triggered when a supplier “adjusts, refunds or credits” HST under section 232 (e.g. because the HST was incorrectly charged or the price was later reduced) to a purchaser and generally requires, among other things, that the supplier “within a reasonable time, issue to the other person a credit note, containing prescribed information…” If the purchaser has already claimed back the HST paid to the supplier as an input tax credit (“ITC”), section 232 requires the purchaser to repay the credited HST to the CRA when it files its HST return, so that it is prevented from recovering the single HST payment twice (i.e. once as an input tax credit and once as a credit from the supplier).