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Taxpayer confidentiality vs. CRA audit needs

The Federal Court of Appeal has decided that the Canada Revenue Agency does not have the unrestricted right to ask taxpayers for their tax accrual working papers. Learn about this important decision concerning BP Canada.

Does the CRA have the unrestricted right to ask taxpayers for confidential analyses and subjective opinions about their tax risks? Or should the CRA’s access be restricted to objective facts needed to determine taxes payable, and to subjective information in defined circumstances only?

These were the questions at the centre of the BP Canada Energy Company case that was recently heard by the Federal Court of Appeal. The FCA found that the correct interpretation of the Income Tax Act does not give the CRA power to request books and records from taxpayers without restriction.

The appeal stemmed from a June 2015 Federal Court decision in which the Federal Court had authorized the CRA’s right to access BP Canada’s tax accrual working papers. These internal analyses are required under provincial securities law to support sound and fair financial reporting in a public corporation’s financial statements. Tax accrual working papers typically reveal a company’s uncertain tax positions – which are “soft spots” that could provide the CRA with a road map of issues to examine in tax audits.

Given the potential impact of this judgment on the broader public interest, Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada (CPA Canada) sought and obtained intervener status in the case. In making representations before the court on February 21, 2017, CPA Canada took no position on the merits of the case or the arguments of the parties involved. Rather, CPA Canada intervened to ensure that relevant facts and arguments were considered when the court was making decisions that affect the profession and its mandate to act in the public interest.

CPA Canada believes the decision confirms the right balance between addressing CRA’s needs to efficiently and fairly administer the tax system, CPAs’ professional obligations to ensure the accuracy and integrity of financial reports, and taxpayers’ rights to keep confidential any subjective opinions and information that do not affect their amount of tax owing.

Read CPA Canada’s summary to find out more about the FCA’s reasoning in this case.