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Cyndee Todgham Cherniak

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Susan Kohn Ross

Australia

Andrew Hudson



The New Harmonized Value-Added Tax System Regulations Contain a Surprise - An Anti-Avoidance Rule

The June 9, 2010 Canada Gazette (Part II,  Vol 144, No. 12) contained the New Harmonized Value-Added Tax System Regulations SOR/2010-117. Part 2 (section 34-37 contain the HST anti-avoidance rules.  These rules are in addition to the general anti-avoidance rule in section 274 of the Excise Tax Act (Canada) and the Ministerial discretion in subsection 2(18) and section 6 of the Retail Sales Tax Act (Ontario).

In short, related parties (parties operating at non-arms length) may see their tax planning challenged by the Canada Revenue Agency and additional assessments of harmonized sales tax (HST) levied where the Minister believes there is a tax benefit flowing from a transaction with no bona fide business purpose.  The HST anti-avoidance rules do not appear to apply to non-arm's length parties.

First, the time frames - the HST anti-avoidance rules apply to transactions that occurred after March 26, 2009 (the date of Ontario's HST budget announcement). In particular, Part 5 of the Regulations provide:

  • Section 35 applies to any agreement varied,
    altered or terminated on or after March 26,
    2009 and to any new agreement entered into on
    or after that day.
  • Section 36 applies to any agreement varied,
    altered or terminated on or after April 6,
    2010 and to any new agreement entered into on
    or after that day.
  • Section 37 applies to any transaction made
    on or after March 26, 2009.

My first reaction is - poor souls in British Columbia.  The drafters of the Regulations are mistaken and must believe that the B.C. HST announcement occurred at the same time as Ontario and not on July 23, 2009.

Next, what appears to be covered:

  • Arm's length transactions entered into between March 26, 2009 and July 1, 2010 that are altered or varied or terminated
  • Arm's length transactions entered into after a tax rate change announcement that are altered or varied or terminated
  • Arm's length transactions or series of transactions would in the absence of this section result, directly or indirectly, in a tax benefit to one or more of the persons involved in the transaction or series of transactions it may not reasonably be considered that the transaction, or the series of transactions, has been undertaken or arranged primarily for bona fide purposes other than to obtain a tax benefit, arising from a harmonization event, for one or more of the persons involved in the transaction or series of transactions.

I would like to highlight something that is written in the Regulatory Impact Statement (at the end of the Regulation) after reading the part under "Consultations"

The Regulations are designed to reflect previous HST announcements of proposed rules by Ontario and British Columbia on October 14, 2009 and by the Government of Canada on February 25, 2010.

I must have missed the anti-avoidance rules announcement.

Finally, after re-reading the Regulatory Impact Statement regarding the anti-avoidance provisions, businesses that have expanded into another province after March 26, 2009 may find their business activities under a CRA microscope and will have to prove their legitimate business purpose to an auditor:

The Regulations also set out rules to prevent persons from improperly taking advantage of a change in the new harmonized value-added tax system under the Excise Tax Act. Such changes include the addition of a province to the system, a change to the tax rate of a participating province or a change to a rebate of the provincial component of the HST.

The anti-avoidance rules in these Regulations apply where persons not dealing at arm’s length with each other enter into transactions to obtain a tax benefit as a result of a change in the new harmonized value-added tax system and not primarily for bona fide purposes other than to obtain the tax benefit. In these circumstances, the Regulations allow the Minister of National Revenue to assess the participants in the transactions in order to deny the tax benefit. Generally, the aim of the harmonization anti avoidance rules is to prevent persons not dealing at arm’s length from attempting to avoid the HST simply to obtain a tax benefit and for no bona fide purpose.

Here are the HST anti-avoidance rules (which are long and difficult to read):

The anti-avoidance rules are:

34. This Part applies despite any provision of the Act.

35. If
(a) at any time before the harmonization date for a participating province, a supplier and a recipient enter into an agreement for a taxable supply of property or a service,
(b) the supplier and the recipient at a later time either directly or indirectly
(i) vary or alter the agreement for the supply,
or
(ii) terminate the agreement and enter into one or more new agreements with each other or with other persons and under one or more of those agreements the supplier supplies, and the recipient receives, one or more supplies that includes all or substantially all the property or service referred to in paragraph (a),
(c) the supplier, the recipient and, if applicable, the other persons are not dealing with each other at arm’s length at the time the agreement referred to in paragraph (a) is entered into or at the later time,
(d) tax under subsection 165(2) or section 218.1 of the Act or Division IV.1 of Part IX of the Act in respect of the supply referred to in paragraph (a) would have been, in the absence of the variation, alteration or termination of the agreement, calculated at the tax rate for the participating province on all or part of the value of the consideration for the supply attributable to the property or service,
(e) tax under subsection 165(2) or section 218.1of the Act or Division IV.1 of Part IX of the Act in respect of the supply made under the varied or altered agreement or made under any of the new agreements, in the absence of this section, would not apply to, or would be calculated at a rate that is less than the tax rate for the participating province on, any part of the value of the consideration for the supply, attributable to any part of the property or service, on which tax under subsection 165(2) or section 218.1 of the Act or Division IV.1 of Part IX of the Act in respect of the supply referred to in paragraph (a) would have been, in the absence of the variation, alteration or termination of the agreement, calculated at the tax rate for the participating province, and
(f) the variation or alteration of the agreement or the entering into of the new agreements may not reasonably be considered for both the supplier and the recipient to have been undertaken or arranged primarily for bona fide purposes other than to, directly or indirectly, reduce, avoid or defer tax or any other amount payable under Part IX of the Act or benefit in any manner from the participating province becoming a participating province, tax under subsection 165(2) or section 218.1 of the Act or Division IV.1 of Part IX of the Act in respect of the supply made under the varied or altered agreement or made under any of the new agreements shall be calculated at the rate at which tax would have been calculated under paragraph (d) on any part of the value of the consideration, referred to in paragraph (e), attributable to any part of the property or service.

 

36. If
(a) at any time before the particular date on which a change in the tax rate for a participating province applies in respect of a taxable supply of property or a service, a supplier and a recipient enter into an agreement for a taxable supply of the property or service,
(b) the supplier and the recipient at a later time either directly or indirectly
(i) vary or alter the agreement for the supply,
or
(ii) terminate the agreement and enter into one or more new agreements with each other or with other persons and under one or more of those agreements the supplier supplies, and the recipient receives, one or more supplies that includes all or substantially all the property or service referred to in paragraph (a),
(c) the supplier, the recipient and, if applicable, the other persons are not dealing with each other at arm’s length at the time the agreement referred to in paragraph (a) is entered into or at the later time,
(d) tax under subsection 165(2) or section 218.1 of the Act or Division IV.1 of Part IX of the Act in respect of the supply referred to in paragraph
(a) would have been, in the absence of the variation, alteration or termination of the agreement, calculated on all or part of the value of the consideration for the supply attributable to the property or service at the tax rate (in this section referred to as the “higher rate”) for the participating province that is the greater of
(i) the tax rate for the participating province that applies immediately before the particular date in respect of a taxable supply of the property or service, and
(ii) the tax rate for the participating province that applies on the particular date in respect of a taxable supply of the property or service,
(e) tax under subsection 165(2) or section 218.1 of the Act or Division IV.1 of Part IX of the Act in respect of the supply made under the varied or altered agreement or made under any of the new agreements, in the absence of this section, would not apply to, or would be calculated at a rate that is less than the higher rate on, any part of the value of the consideration for the supply, attributable to any part of the property or service, on which tax under subsection 165(2) or section 218.1 of the Act or Division IV.1 of Part IX of the Act in respect of the supply referred to in paragraph (a) would have been, in the absence of the variation, alteration or termination of the agreement, calculated at the higher rate, and
(f) the variation or alteration of the agreement or the entering into of the new agreements may not reasonably be considered for both the supplier and the recipient to have been undertaken or arranged primarily for bona fide purposes other than to, directly or indirectly, reduce, avoid or defer tax or any other amount payable under Part IX of the Act or benefit in any manner from the rate change, tax under subsection 165(2) or section 218.1 of the Act or Division IV.1 of Part IX of the Act in respect of the supply made under the varied or altered agreement or made under any of the new agreements shall be calculated at the rate at which tax would have been calculated under paragraph (d) on any part of the value of the consideration, referred to in paragraph (e), attributable to any part of the property or service.

37. (1) The following definitions apply in this section.

“harmonization event” means the transition by a province to the new harmonized value-added tax system or any change referred to in paragraph 277.1(3)(a) of the Act as “provincial tax policy flexibility”.

“person” does not include a consumer.

“tax benefit” means a reduction, an avoidance or a deferral of tax or other amount payable under Part IX of the Act or an increase in a refund or rebate of tax or other amount under that Part.

“transaction” has the same meaning as in subsection 274(1) of the Act.

(2) If
(a) a transaction, or a series of transactions, involving property is made between two or more persons, all of whom are not dealing with each other at arm’s length at the time any of those transactions are made,
(b) the transaction, any of the transactions in the series of transactions or the series of transactions would in the absence of this section result directly or indirectly in a tax benefit to one or more of the persons involved in the transaction or series of transactions, and
(c) it may not reasonably be considered that the transaction, or the series of transactions, has been undertaken or arranged primarily for bona fide purposes other than to obtain a tax benefit, arising from a harmonization event, for one or more of the persons involved in the transaction or series of transactions, the amount of tax, net tax, input tax credit, rebate or other amount payable by, or refundable to, any of those persons under Part IX of the Act, or any other amount that is relevant for the purposes of computing that amount, shall be determined as is reasonable in the circumstances in order to deny the tax benefit to any of those persons.

(3) A tax benefit shall only be denied under subsection (2) through an assessment, reassessment or additional assessment under Part IX of the Act.

(4) If, with respect to a transaction, a notice of assessment, reassessment or additional assessment involving the application of subsection (2) with respect to the transaction has been sent to a person, any person (other than a person to whom such a notice has been sent) is entitled, within 180 days after the day on which the notice was mailed, to request in writing that the Minister make an assessment, a reassessment or an additional assessment, applying subsection (2) with respect to that transaction.

(5) On receipt of a request by a person under subsection (4), the Minister shall, with all due dispatch, consider the request and, despite subsections 298(1) and (2) of the Act, assess, reassess or make an additional assessment under Part IX of the Act with respect to the person, except that the assessment, reassessment or additional assessment may be made only to the extent that it may reasonably be regarded as relating to the transaction referred to in subsection (4).

 

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