05 July 2013

Another reason to keep your affairs in order

The Globe and Mail recently published an article relating to the long-arm powers available to the Canada Revenue Agency to collect its debts. In this case, it concerns the transfer of property in non-arm's-length transactions where the transferor has outstanding tax liability, which, under s. 160 of the Income Tax Act, will attract liability in the hands of the recipient.

S. 160's reach is quite broad:

  • it captures the transfer of property, either directly or indirectly, by means of a trust or by any other means whatever, to
  • a person's spouse or common-law partner, anyone under the age of 18, or anyone not being dealt with at arm's length,
  • resulting (before taking into account the effect of the income attribution rules in the Act) in both the transferor and transferee being jointly and severally liable for the amount (in excess of the fair market value of any consideration given) in order to satisfy the outstanding tax liability in question.
What constitutes a "transfer of property?" It can be:
  • a gift or bequest,
  • a deposit into the transferee's bank account,
  • releasing an interest in a joint bank account or a joint tenancy to the other titleholder,
  • making payments on another person's mortgage,
  • a tax-debtor corporation issuing dividends to related shareholders who are in a position to control the corporation, or
  • a series of transactions from one non-arm's-length person to another (in which case the joint and several liability applies to all parties!)
but it does not include payments made under a court order or separation agreement (by virtue of s. 160(4)).

Two recent cases at the Federal Court of Appeal help to explain s. 160's scope:
  • Canada v. Livingston, 2008 FCA 89 (CanLII), [2008] 3 CTC 230(which addresses the key criteria for s. 160 assessments)
  • Yates v. Canada, 2009 FCA 50, [2010] 1 FCR 436, [2009] 3 CTC 183(which calls for strict interpretation of the section)
There is no limitation period by which such an assessment can become statute-barred, and the effects do not end there:
  • s. 325 of the Excise Tax Act provides that, where there is an amount by which such an undervalue transaction exceeds the liability that can be assessed under the ITA, it is available for similar assessments to satisfy any outstanding liability for GST/HST.
  • s. 96 of the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act provides similar recovery powers in the event of certain undervalue transactions occurring prior to bankruptcy (within the previous year, or the previous five years if the transaction was not at arm's length) where the debtor was insolvent at the time of the transfer or was rendered insolvent by it, or the debtor intended to defraud, defeat or delay a creditor.
I have published several posts recently on the need to prove a genuine business case before undertaking transactions that are not at arm's length. This is an addition to what should be kept in mind.

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