The highly-anticipated appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada in Guindon v The Queen has been scheduled for hearing on December 5, 2014, and the parties have now filed their factums in the appeal.
For our prior posts on this decision, refer to our summary of the Tax Court decision (2012 TCC 287), our guest blogger’s summary of the Federal Court of Appeal decision (2013 FCA 153), and our summary of the Supreme Court leave application (Docket No. 35519).
The appeal concerns the “third party” penalties under section 163.2 of the Income Tax Act. In short, the Tax Court found that the penalty imposed under section 163.2 is a criminal penalty, not a civil one, and therefore subject to the protection of (inter alia) section 11 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The Federal Court of Appeal reversed on the basis that Ms. Guindon did not provide notice of a constitutional question, and thus the Tax Court lacked jurisdiction to make an order on the nature of section 163.2. In any event, the Federal Court of Appeal also stated that the penalty under section 163.2 was not criminal in nature, and hence, was not subject to Charter protections.
On appeal to the Supreme Court, the Ms. Guindon has framed her appeal as follows: based on the Supreme Court’s decisions in Wigglesworth and Martineau, section 163.2 is an offence provision that attracts the protection of (inter alia) section 11 of the Charter on the basis that section 163.2 is (1) an offence provision “by nature” and (2) an offence provision by virtue of its true “penal consequences”.
In addition, if section 163.2 is an offence provision, then Ms. Guindon argues that her section 11 Charter rights were breached in a manner that cannot be justified under section 1 of the Charter (applying the Oakes test).
Finally, Ms. Guindon asserts that a notice of constitutional question did not need to be filed in this case, since she was not seeking a declaration that section 163.2 was unconstitutional, but was rather merely asserting her Charter rights (and in the alternative, if notice of constitutional question was needed, Ms. Guindon argues that no prejudice resulted to the Crown and the Supreme Court can simply replace the lower court’s decision with its own).
The Crown, not surprisingly, has focused its primary argument on the fact that no notice of constitutional question was made by the taxpayer. Accordingly, the Crown argues that the Supreme Court should dismiss the appeal on that basis alone and need not consider the substantive issues.
Alternatively, the Crown argues that section 163.2 is not an offence provision “by nature”, as its objects are purely administrative, the purpose of the penalty is to deter non-compliance under the Income Tax Act, and the process by which to challenge the penalty (i.e., the objection and appeal process under the Act) is not criminal in nature.
Moreover, the Crown asserts that section 163.2 does not impose true “penal consequences”, since (i) prosecution could have resulted in harsher sanctions (including prison time), and (ii) the magnitude of the penalty must be assessed in the context of the malady it intends to remedy (notwithstanding the lack of a penalty “ceiling”). If the Supreme Court finds that section 163.2 infringes section 11 of the Charter, then the Minister will not seek to uphold it under section 1 of the Charter.
Regardless of the Supreme Court’s finding on the issue regarding the notice of constitutional question, it would be surprising if the Supreme Court did not consider the substantive issue – it would be puzzling for the Court to grant leave and consider only the preliminary question. Accordingly, even if Ms. Guindon’s appeal fails on technical grounds, we expect the Court to offer much-needed guidance on the nature of section 163.2.
If the Court determines that section 163.2 infringes section 11 of the Charter (regardless of its finding on the “notice” issue), we can expect the Department of Finance may consider amendments to 163.2 (and the parallel provision under the Excise Tax Act) in a manner that takes into account the Supreme Court’s reasons.
The Court’s decision will also have implications for the Excise Tax Act (the “ETA”). Section 285.1 of the ETA imposes a similar planner/preparer penalty for GST/HST purposes. At the CPA Commodity Tax Symposium in Ottawa (held on September 29 and 30, 2014), the CRA announced that it had recently issued the first penalty under section 285.1 of the ETA.
And for both the ITA and ETA, we expect there may be other potential penalty reassessments issued – or not – depending on the result of the Guindon case.
For these reasons, we eagerly await the hearing on December 5, 2014 and the Court’s subsequent decision.