The Supreme Court of Canada heard oral arguments today in the case of Guindon v. The Queen (Docket No. 35519). At issue in the case is the nature of the third-party penalty in section 163.2 of the Income Tax Act.

See our previous post on the case here.

The taxpayer’s factum is available here, and the Crown’s factum is here. In written submissions, the taxpayer argued:

  1. Section 163.2 is an offence provision that attracts the protections of section 11 of the Charter, and
  2. No notice of constitutional question was required.

In response, the Crown argued:

  1. The taxpayer’s failure to file a notice of constitutional question is fatal to the appeal, and
  2. Section 163.2 is not an offence provision.

The seven-member panel was chaired by Justice Rosalie Abella. (Absent were Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin and recently appointed Justice Suzanne Côté.)

Taxpayer’s Arguments

The Appellant first addressed the question of whether notice of a constitutional question was required under section 19.2 of the Tax Court of Canada Act. The Appellant argued that it was not advancing the position that section 163.2 was invalid or inapplicable or inoperable, and thus no notice was required. Further, if notice was required, it had been provided in respect of the Supreme Court proceeding.

This brought a series of pointed questions from Justices Abella and Moldaver, who asked whether the effect of the Appellant’s interpretation would be to “throw out” the third-party penalty regime in section 163.2 because it would become subject to criminal procedural requirements. Further, the Court was unconvinced that providing the notice in respect of the Supreme Court hearing cured the failure to provide the notice in the Tax Court.

In respect of the Wigglesworth test, the Appellant argued that section 163.2 is directed at any person, and therefore it is intended to promote public order rather than to regulate a private sphere of conduct. Further, section 163.2 has a true penal consequence in that the penalty imposed under this section is identical to the penalty that could be imposed under section 239 for criminal tax evasion.

Justice Rothstein asked several questions about how section 163.2 differs from the other penalty provisions in the Act and whether a finding that section 163.2 was an offense would require Parliament to redraft the provision to include language similar to that found in section 239. On this point, Justice Abella returned to the issue of whether the Appellant was in fact seeking to have section 163.2 declared inoperable.

Crown’s Arguments

The Crown’s submissions were generally received with less judicial intervention from the Court.  The Crown began its submissions with a discussion of the issue of notice of constitutional question.  When asked whether the failure to give notice can be cured in subsequent proceedings, counsel for the Crown conceded that it could in certain cases, but that by the time the dispute comes before the Supreme Court, the matter should be fully argued and the evidentiary record should be complete.

The Crown argued that, in this case, the Federal Court of Appeal could have done one of three things, each of which would have been acceptable: (1) it could have said that notice of constitutional question is required, adjourned the proceedings to remedy the failure, and heard arguments on the substantive issue; (2) it could have returned the matter back to the Tax Court to have the notice served and arguments re-heard so that the evidentiary record could be completed at trial; or (3) it could have done what it did in this case, and held that failure to give notice prevented the court from considering whether section 163.2 implicates the Charter. On this point, Crown counsel argued that the Supreme Court should not sanction a practice that makes it better to ask for forgiveness on appeal rather than asking for permission in the Tax Court.

Regarding the substantive issue, Crown counsel argued that since the penalty is computed mathematically, and with specific reference to the amount of tax credits that the individual taxpayers claimed under the Income Tax Act, then the penalty in section 163.2 is a non-discretionary penalty that bears none of the principles of sentencing (e.g., blameworthiness, retribution, denunciation, reparation, etc.).

Crown counsel discussed the facts of the case to show the link between the penalty amount and the underlying income tax at issue.  Interestingly, Crown counsel distinguished this penalty (i.e., the “tax preparer” penalty) from the “tax advisor” penalty in section 163.2, on the basis that the tax advisor penalty takes into account “gross entitlements”, which this particular penalty does not (therefore, it remains to be seen in a future case whether the “tax advisor” penalty in section 163.2 could be treated differently).  In response to questions from Justices Abella and Rothstein, Crown counsel stated that this penalty is not an “outlier”, as counsel for the Appellant suggested, and that the type of stigma attached to this penalty is a different kind of stigma than the one attached to criminal sanctions.

Finally, regarding the issue of quantum, Crown counsel argued that the amount of the penalty was irrelevant to the analysis.  Justices Abella and Rothstein asked whether the analysis would change if the amount was sufficiently enormous.  Crown counsel argued that the analysis turns on whether the penalty is penal in nature, and if the answer is no, then only in extreme cases would the actual amount cause a penalty to be penal.

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Following brief submissions made by the intervener, the Court reserved its decision.