“New” CRA Powers are Not so New after all! Unless…

Recent radio advertising and newspaper or online articles would have you believe that the CRA has been ramping up staff in order to break down your door in the middle of the night and arrest you for tax fraud.

Deep down inside you knew that you should have opened a BN number and GST/HST account for your child\s lemonade stand because even though they were significantly under the $30,000 sales threshold, if registered, you could have claimed the Input Tax Credits – but you didn’t and the CRA wants their money!

You also know that if you had a question, the CRA call centre were going to mislead you, or lie to you so that you would be forced to pay even more money.

You also know that you might need help for a tax accountant, tax lawyer, tax broker, tax solutions firm, or tax audit specialist… but you cannot choose because the different names must mean they do different things and you don’t know which category you fall into, and … the CRA are so coming to get you… now!

(Is that rustling in the bushes in front of my house?)

spyingWell all of these new powers and the threats that they are going to break-down your door and arrest you on the spot are not really true.

You only have to fear the CRA breaking down your door (really the RCMP, but I’m sure the CRA would be there somewhere along the way) if you have done something wrong.  Very wrong.  Criminally wrong.

You should be concerned if the CRA knows you’ve done something criminally wrong, or have been involved in terrorist financing or activity because they’ll pass that along to the police.

The Canada Revenue Agency gained the little-noticed new authority, which does not require a judicial warrant, through an amendment tucked into the government’s most recent budget bill.

Previously, confidentiality provisions in the law prevented the CRA from handing information about suspected wrongdoing, on its own initiative, to law enforcement.

The exception was information that pointed to tax-related crimes.

The new provisions apply to offences including breaking and entering, vehicle theft, arson, corruption and kidnapping and in return, the CRA can now receive information from local authorities about any offence with a minimum prison term, or one with a maximum sentence of 14 years.

The list of offences is broad and is a significant shift in confidentiality policy allowing the CRA to pass along information to law authorities without a court-ordered warrant, even when the alleged crime(s) have nothing to do with taxes.

Interim procedures for administering the new powers were issued to all CRA employees in June 2016 not too long after the legislation received royal assent.

The intended use of this new tool, is that an exchange should occur when an employee gathers information in the course of their regular duties.

This information exchange was intended to be one-way and would be closely controlled through a set of strict criteria.

As an aside, it would have been nice to know who might be carrying on criminal activity, when I was working at the CRA and went to visit a business to determine why they stopped filing GST returns, only to learn that they were conducting illegal activities and was physically threatened before getting the heck out of there.

The following day the RCMP showed up, cleaned out the place and arrested the operators.

I never did get my outstanding GST returns, however, which could have been prosecuted as a criminal offense (but was not).

All potential referrals to police will be vetted by the agency’s criminal investigations personnel and must be approved by the assistant commissioner of the department’s compliance programs branch, CRA has reported.

The key points to remember are this;

  1. If you happen to have partaken in a criminal activity, you might not want to disclose that to the CRA collector.
  2. Make sure to stay compliant!  File up to date and don’t give the CRA reasons for looking for stuff.
  3. Take all of the tax-related advertising with a grain of salt.  Their intention is to scare you and force you to drop a ton of cash at their business.  Instead, I recommend you do your research, ask questions and get the solution that fits your tax problem.
  4. If you’re not sure… Ask.  Then use your judgement.

 

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When News Really Is Not News: Revenue Canada “Forbids” Unitarians From Working For Justice.

I came across a headline from CBC.ca which screamed “Revenue Canada forbids Unitarians from working for justice – Tax auditors continue Harper-launched probe of religious charity under new Liberal government” and I could not hesitate to stop and see what this was all about.

The link to the original article is here, and comments are already closed for this topic, a day after it hit the public broadcaster’s website with a whopping 732 comments.

To summarize the article for those who do not want to follow the link, the CRA (not Revenue Canada) advised the Canadian Unitarian Council that it’s council bylaws are too vague.  They did not “forbid” them for doing anything but being compliant with Canadian Charity regulations.

The CRA wrote, “Vague purposes are ambiguous and can be interpreted in many different ways,” in a compliance letter, which includes other demands more than a year after the political activity audit of this charity was launched.

The Canadian Unitarian Council bylaws were accepted by Industry Canada when the Toronto-based charity submitted them for approval (applied for charitable status) in 2013, however the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) found the wording to be contradictory to the Charitable definition set out in the Income Tax Act, and have asked the charity to remove any reference to “justice” or “social justice.”

Where I find this post to be completely irresponsible is where the author begins to compare audits of charities to being a witch hunt which started under Stephen Harper’s Conservative government and is continuing under Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government.

“Many charities targeted by CRA’s political activity audit program, begun in 2012 under the Stephen Harper government, had expected relief from the Liberals, who campaigned on a promise to set charities “free from political harassment.”

It is the responsibility of the Minister of National Revenue through the Canada Revenue Agency to ensure that each and every charity is registered correctly and that they are following guidelines set out in the Income Tax Act and that those rules, regulations and by-laws which were submitted by the charity is being followed.

While it might be a huge pain in the ass for established charities, the CRA audit process provides an opportunity for charities to ensure they are compliant with rules and regulations and are eligible to issue donation receipts.

With all the chaos the CRA has had to deal with regarding the GLGI charity scam and other ineligible donation programs, it is VERY important for each and every taxpayer that the CRA does their due diligence and confirms the charity is following the letter of the law because if they are not, the problems fall to the people who donate!

Wisely, the Minister of National Revenue said the 24 political activity audits underway would continue without interference from the Liberal government and the Notice of Revocation of Charitable Status issued to 5 other charities would not be rescinded by her government.

The Liberals did, however, cancel political activity audits on 6 other charities.

The fact that the Canadian Unitarian Council was a vocal critic of the Harper government is meaningless, as is the fact that many of the 60 charities audited in the $13.4-million political activities audit program were too.

The only thing that matters here is that Taxpayers like you and I will be able to donate to a charity, receive a donation receipt and be sure that the donation receipt is valid and will be accepted by the CRA.  Even if that means that charities which were started with all the best intentions in the world have to work a little bit harder to ensure they are fully compliant with the CRA’s Charities requirements, which can be found right here.

Personally, I’m happy to hear that of 38 completed audits so far, only one found no problems, six have been given notice the agency intends to revoke their charitable status, of which 5 will be appealing.

Considering the amount of discussion and opportunity to meet the CRA’s requirements during the audit process, it is likely that these charities which are appealing either do not meet the CRA’s charity requirements at all, or are refusing to change their bylaws and thus will have their status revoke for good.

At the end of the day, it’s not a war against charities, but it’s the CRA performing due diligence to ensure the taxpayer’s donated money is heading for a cause and not to pad the pockets of the charities Board of Directors.

Don’t Forget The T3’s!

Are you a Canadian resident who also has an obligation to file in the US?  Before you send in your US taxes to meet the April 15th filing deadline, make sure to remember there is still one more tax slip on its way.

If you are set to receive a T3 for a Canadian trust, you have a little more time that your dual-filing counterparts.

T3 slips, otherwise known as the Statement of Trust Allocation and Designations (RL16 for Quebec residents), are being prepared and mailed – copies to the CRA – by the end of March.

A T3 slip reports how much income you received from investment in mutual funds in non-registered accounts, from business income trusts or income from an estate for a given tax year.

If you have not received your T3 tax slip – get in touch with the relevant financial administrator or trustee but make sure to file your income tax return by the deadline anyway to avoid late filing penalties.

You can find more information from the CRA website, here.

The Horse and Pony Protection Association (HAPPA) Sought Voluntary Revocation of Charitable Status From CRA

The voluntary revocation of the registered charitable status of The Horse and Pony Protection Association (HAPPA) as a result of a CBC investigation could leave Canadian Taxpayers who donated to this organization owing back monies to the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA).

Almost one year ago, the CBC Investigates reported on accountability issues at the Newfoundland charity after former members of the Board of Directors raised concerns about the operation of the group, which at the time continued to take donations from the public 18 months after closing its flagship horse sanctuary.

As a result of strict confidentiality guidelines, the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) are unable to say who made the request to have HAPPA’s charitable status removed, however after the CBC investigation was published, the website was removed, and further investigation turned up a significant breach in reporting requirements on behalf of the charity as it would appear that they filed incorrect information with federal charity regulators, claiming that all board members are “arm’s length” from each other.

According to the CBC, the only current active members of the Horse and Pony Protection Association (HAPPA) board are what appear to be a mother and daughter and what appear to be a long-time couple.

Family members and common-law partners are considered “not at arm’s length” by the Canada Revenue Agency — something that can affect how the agency assesses a charity’s status.

Charities are required to file a form outlining those relationships and the CBC reported that on HAPPA’s website they found their filing for the year ending December 31st, 2011 in which there were 8 directors listed as being “at arm’s length” from each other.

The significance of the revocation of charitable status is that anyone who donated to the charity after that date, will not be allowed to claim the donation as a deduction from their income. If they do so anyway, the CRA will re-assess them plus penalties and interest. The Taxpayer Relief program will not granted penalty and or interest relief to those who donated to this charity, and in situations like these, as there are no categories to apply under.

Once the revoked, the charity should have transferred all of its remaining property — including cash — to an eligible donee, or be subjected to a revocation tax equal to the property’s full value.

If you have donated to this organization and are concerned that the CRA may disallow the charitable receipt, it is best to not submit it with your taxes. You have 4 years to claim charitable deductions.

The Canada Revenue Agency is actively looking for Offshore Accounts too…

I have received confirmation from a senior official at the Canada Revenue Agency that the CRA is in fact actively investigating individuals suspected of being involved in the recent offshore account problem overseas.  Thus far, no one has been named publicly and my source at the CRA has confirmed that each person contact thus far has willingly come forward to pay amounts owing in full and that the number of people thus far targeted by the CRA totals less than 100.

The list remains private because the CRA does not want to tip-off those involved that they are coming for them, nor do they want to admit that they are severely short of qualified staff needed to make arrangements with these taxpayers and their numerous numbers of representatives.

The CRA suspects that the list is available elsewhere and that it might be coming to light sooner than many wish which could hurt the CRA and will certainly shame those involved.

The CRA will certainly be looking for additional offshore funds with speculation abound that there will be incentives down the road for taxpayers and financial organizations to disclose to the CRA situations where an individual or organization is placing it’s assets out of the reach of the CRA for tax evasion purposes.

Stay tuned!