CRA issues assessments, including net worth assessments, third party assessments for director liability or for assets transferred to a relative when taxes were owing under section 160 of the Income Tax Act, as the first step to establishing tax liability and collecting taxes. If the tax auditor believes that a tax return was filed incorrectly or contained inaccurate information, it is likely that the taxpayer will be reassessed by the Canada Revenue Agency. The taxpayer’s first step to dispute the auditor’s findings is by requesting an internal review of their file at the Canada Revenue Agency by an Appeals Officer with a mandate to take an independent look at the file. This is accomplished by filing a Notice of Objection. There is a time limit to file a Notice of Objection; 90 days from the date of the Notice of Assessment/Reassessment, with extension requests possible, but not always granted, for an additional year from the expiration of the 90-day objection period.
Upon filing a Notice of Objection, an Appeals Officer from Canada Revenue Agency will make contact with the taxpayer (or their Canadian tax lawyer if they are represented by a professional tax advisor) and conduct an independent review of the amounts on the taxpayer’s return(s) that are in dispute. This means that the Appeals Officer should not meet or talk with the tax auditor assigned to your file unless your Canadian income tax lawyer is given a copy of the minutes of any discussion.
It is very important that the Notice of Objection be drafted with legal arguments in mind and with references made to the Income Tax Act, as it is possible that any further appeals will be developed on the basis of the arguments contained within the Notice of Objection. Remember, the Canada Revenue Agency is bound by the Income Tax Act and can only act on the authority that is given to it by the Income Tax Act. Additional submissions can be made to the Appeals Officer at this time to persuade the officer as to why the auditor was incorrect in coming to their conclusion in their tax audit.
Our experienced Canadian tax lawyers can assist at this step by drafting a Notice of Objection that emphasizes the most important points, citing the relevant income tax law and decided income tax cases as well as by explaining to you why an argument is strong or weak even if it at first seemed otherwise. Our Canadian tax litigation lawyers can also help by identifying the additional information or submissions that would most support your arguments, and making sure that something irrelevant or unhelpful is not submitted along with everything else.
The Appeals Officer can decide in one of three ways to the objections raised. The reassessment can be: (1) vacated, meaning that the Appeals Officer agrees with the taxpayer; (2) varied, meaning that the Appeals Officer accepts some of the taxpayer’s arguments and a new reassessment will be issued that reflects this; or (3) confirmed, meaning that the Appeals Officer rejects the taxpayer’s arguments.
If the taxpayer disagrees with the Appeals Officer’s interpretation of the facts, the taxpayer can appeal, as of right, to the Tax Court of Canada. This must be done within 90 days from the date of the reassessment, but can be extended through an application to the court for up to one additional year. However, an extension relating to a Notice of Appeal to the Tax Court of Canada is rarely granted. For a more detailed discussion of the stages involved in appealing to the Tax Court of Canada, refer to Part III of this series, which discusses disputing a tax assessment at the Tax Court of Canada.