The common law doctrine of rectification operates to correct mistakes in transactions that produce (or may produce) unintended and adverse tax results. This was established in the landmark case of Juliar et. al. v A.G. (Canada) (50 O.R. 3d 728) (Ont. C.A.) (Dentons was counsel to the successful taxpayers).
In Fairmont Hotels Inc. et al. v A.G. (Canada) (2014 ONSC 7302) the Ontario Superior Court of Justice has provided another example of the manner in which rectification can be used to unwind certain impugned steps in a transaction and substitute the proper steps that accord with the parties’ intention to avoid tax.
Legacy Hotels REIT owned a collection of hotels, which were purchased from Fairmont in or around 1997. Fairmont continued to manage these hotels. In 2002 and 2003, Fairmont was involved in the financing of Legacy’s purchase of two hotels in Washington and Seattle. Through the use of several reciprocal loans between Legacy, Fairmont and several subsidiary companies, Legacy purchased the Washington hotel for $67 million USD and the Seattle hotel for $19 million USD. Fairmont hedged its loans to eliminate or reduce its foreign exchange tax exposure in Canada.
In 2006, Fairmont was acquired by two companies and its shares ceased to be publicly traded. This acquisition of control could have frustrated the parties’ intention that no entity would realize a foreign exchange gain or loss in connection with the reciprocal loan arrangements. A tax and accounting plan was created that would have allowed the companies to complete the acquisition and continue the full hedge of the foreign exchange exposure. However, this plan was modified before implementation with the result that certain foreign exchange exposure was not hedged.
In 2007, Legacy asked Fairmont to terminate the reciprocal loan arrangements on an urgent basis so that the Washington and Seattle hotels could be sold. A Fairmont officer mistakenly believed that the original 2006 plan had been implemented (i.e., the plan that continued the full hedge of the foreign exchange exposure) and agreed to the unwinding of the loans (which involved the redemption of certain preferred shares of the subsidiaries involved in the loan arrangements). Subsequently, the CRA reviewed the transactions and reassessed on the basis that the 2007 share redemptions triggered a foreign exchange gain.
Fairmont brought an application to rectify the 2007 share redemptions and to substitute a loan arrangement. Fairmont argued that its intent from 2002 was to have the original reciprocal loan arrangements unwound on a tax-neutral basis. In response, the Crown argued that Fairmont had never intended the proposed substituted loan arrangement and thus was engaged in retroactive tax planning.
Fairmont relied on the Ontario Court of Appeal decision in Juliar for the principle that the exact method to achieve a common intention to avoid tax is not required at the time of the transaction. In response, the Crown argued that the Alberta Court of Queens’ Bench in Graymar Equipment (2008) Inc. v A.G. (Canada) (2014 ABQB 154) had been critical of Juliar and had stated that rectification is granted to restore a transaction to its original purpose and not to avoid an unintended effect.
However, in the present case, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice stated that, unlike the Alberta court, Ontario courts “do not have the luxury of ignoring” the Ontario Court of Appeal’s decision in Juliar. Further, the Ontario court stated that the Alberta court had not accurately described what happened in Juliar, and that another recent Alberta decision had in fact followed the reasoning in Juliar.
In the present case, the Ontario court held that Fairmont’s intention from 2002 was to carry out the reciprocal loan arrangements on a tax- and accounting-neutral basis so that any foreign exchange gain would be offset by a corresponding foreign exchange loss. This intention remained unchanged when Fairmont was sold in 2006 and when the reciprocal loans were unwound in 2007. A mistake had caused the unintended tax assessments.
The Court also stated that this was not a situation in which the taxpayer was engaging in retroactive tax planning after a CRA audit. The parties intended to unwind the loans on a tax-free basis.
The Court allowed the application and rectified the corporate resolutions as requested. The Court awarded $30,000 of costs to the Applicants.