A recent New Brunswick Court of Appeal decision confirms that religious beliefs cannot exempt a taxpayer from the obligation to file a federal income tax return and pay taxes. In R. v. Little, the taxpayer, David Little, was charged for failing to file an income tax return for the 2000-2002 taxation years. Little’s defence was based on two arguments under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, namely freedom of conscience and religion, and equality before the law without discrimination based on religion. Little submitted that, because of a sincerely held and bona fide religious belief that abortions are wrong, he would not file an income tax return and pay taxes under the Canadian Income Tax Act, since this required him to participate in a government scheme which funds public abortions contrary to his sincerely held religious belief.

At trial, Little was convicted and fined $1,000 for each of the three taxation years at issue. He then appealed to the New Brunswick Court of Appeal. In upholding the trial decision, the appellate court found that the filing of an annual tax return could not reasonably be regarded as an expression of support for a particular government policy, such that one’s Charter right to freedom of religion and conscience was infringed. Instead, the Court stated that the non-filing of an annual return and the non-payment of taxes by Little were tantamount to “acts of civil disobedience intended to bring about change in government policy, the law, or both.”

The Little case also has implications for third parties who may assist or encourage this type of behaviour. Under the Income Tax Act, every person who makes or furnishes, participates in the making of, or causes another person to make or furnish a false statement, is liable to a penalty in respect of such a false statement. The wording of the legislation is sufficiently broad to include in its scope any person who encourages another to make false statements or violate the Income Tax Act based on bona fide religious grounds. All such persons should therefore avoid encouraging anyone to refrain from filing tax returns, or otherwise violate the Act on religious grounds.