T1135 Discretionary Penalties
Over the past decade, the Tax Court of Canada (TCC) has gradually carved a role for itself to decide whether to penalize Canadians who fail to file their Foreign Income Verification Statement (T1135 form) on time. A T1135 form must be filled out by any Canadian who, at any time during the year, owns foreign property valued at more than $100,000.00 CAD. Failure to file a T1135 form normally results in a strict penalty being levied against the taxpayer. A “strict” penalty is practically automatic; the circumstances that resulted in the late filing are not examined by the CRA when they’re applied.
T1135 Penalties and the Tax Court of Canada
The courts have gradually decided that there are circumstances where the strict T1135 penalty should not be applied. In Douglas v HMQ, 2012 TCC 73, the TCC accepted the Appellant’s argument that the penalty imposed under subsection 162(7) of the Income Tax Act should be waived for the late-filing of a T1135 form.
In that case, the Appellant knowingly filed his T1 income tax return along with his T1135 nine months late. He assumed that his failure to file on time would not attract a penalty as he did not owe any taxes for the year. However, the Minister imposed the maximum penalty of $2,500.00 for the late-filed T1135.
The TCC noted that the facts of that case justified such application to waive the T1135 penalty. The Court found that the Appellant acted reasonably in believing that there would be no penalty since no taxes were owing. Notwithstanding that subsection 162(7) imposes a strict penalty, the TCC held that it would be unfair to penalize the Appellant in these circumstances.
This decision suggests that a taxpayer may have recourse through the TCC for late-filed T1135 penalties when the taxpayer has exercised “all reasonable measures” to comply with the Income Tax Act.
In Fiset v R, 2017 TCC 63 (Informal Procedure), the Tax Court confirmed the judgement of the Court in Douglas. In that case, the Minister’s counsel (the CRA) decided to agree to cancel the penalties over the course of the proceedings. Justice Fournier stated that had the agreement not been reached, he would have done so himself. Justice Fournier explained:
“It is important to recognize that the Minister of National Revenue (or his delegate) has the discretion to waive any penalty or interest imposed under the Act (subsection 220(3.1)). This is a fairness provision. In my opinion, to insist that the appellant suffer the consequences of an honest mistake would neither benefit the public administration nor enhance confidence in the CRA.” (paragraph 10)
In other words, it is not the Act’s purpose to punish an individual who makes a reasonable mistake in good faith, nor would it generate greater confidence in the CRA. The fact that a Justice of the Tax Court of Canada is considering these appeals demonstrates that these matters are within their purview. Their impact on decisions from the Appeals Division of the CRA are less certain as Appeals Officers are not bound by Informal Procedure decisions.
T1135 Penalties and the Federal Court
In Biswal v Canada, 2017 FC 529, the Federal Court was not able to accept the Appellant’s use of Douglas because it found that it does not have similar jurisdiction of the Tax Court of Canada. This, in essence, confirms that matters of cancelling penalties can be within the jurisdiction of the Tax Court of Canada. The Federal Court judge even encouraged the Appellant to file an appeal to the Tax Court, to access the remedy that she sought.
T1135 Penalties and the Voluntary Disclosure Program
In Leclerc v R, 2010 TCC 99, the Court concluded that Canadians could not be expected to know that T1135 late filing penalties would only be waived by the CRA if they formally applied under its Voluntary Disclosure Program, since these information forms do not involve fraud or non-disclosure of income. The Court’s point in Leclerc was taken further in Moore v the Queen, 2019 TCC 141, where the Court criticized the Tax Guide available to taxpayers, and found that it is unreasonable to punish ordinary Canadians with penalties for honest mistakes.
The Court in Moore cited Leclerc, stating at paragraph 17, “Justice Favreau’s comments are also relevant to, and highlight, the fact that Mr. Moore may have voluntarily disclosed to CRA his late filing, but was unaware that would have had to be done under CRA’s formal voluntary Disclosure Program if he wanted to avoid coming to Court”. He proceeded to cancel the penalties imposed on the Appellant.
T1135 Discretionary Penalties
The evolving case law underscores the more active role that the Tax Court of Canada is taking in providing oversight for the CRA’s more severe penalties and procedures. The Court is chiefly interested in whether the taxpayer exercised due diligence in trying to meet their obligation to file a T1135. While the Court admits that relief should be granted sparingly, it also seems quite willing to consider the remedy in a broad range of circumstances.
However, the Court’s newfound discretion has only been confirmed in judgements rendered under the Informal Procedure. It has not yet been heard in a proceeding under the General Procedure.
The distinction between these two Tax Court procedures is crucial. While officers in the CRA’s internal appeal process can consider judgements rendered through the Informal Procedure, they are only bound by ones rendered in the General Procedure. Until T1135 penalty cases are heard under the General Procedure, these new developments are less likely to have an impact on decisions made by officers in the CRA’s internal appeal process. This unfortunately means that Canadian taxpayers who are unfairly subject to T1135 penalties cannot benefit from the CRA’s internal appeal process; they will have to undergo a costly appeal to the Tax Court or pin their hopes on a taxpayer relief request.
If you have any questions about Form T1135, “Foreign Income Verification Statement”, or you are late filing it, or simply don’t know whether you need to file it or not, call us today! We can help!
This article provides information of a general nature only. It does not provide legal advice nor can it or should it be relied upon. All tax situations are specific to their facts and will differ from the situations in this article. If you have specific legal questions you should consult a lawyer.