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How to take on the CRA

without fear of reprisal

The Canada Revenue Agency is supposed to explain the reasons behind its decisions, but when it fails to do so, you can complain without fear of reprisal

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Paul Dubé is Canada's ombudsman for taxpayers.

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Paul Dubé is Canada's ombudsman for taxpayers.

By: On Your Side, Published on Sun Jun 30 2013

Lawyer Marc Weisman was working with a company that had fallen behind on its taxes. He worked out a deal with the Canada Revenue Agency to pay the arrears over an extended period.

"I was preparing the postdated cheques when the CRA called a day later, saying it couldn't agree to the deal. The client would have only half the time we agreed on," he recalls.

"When I asked why we couldn't keep the longer payment period, I was told, ‘It's our policy.' I asked to be sent the policy. The supervisor said there was no policy available."

He said he would complain on his client's behalf and got a shocking reply.

"A CRA employee told me, ‘If you make a complaint, I'm going to enforce collection right now. I can do what I want,'" says Weisman, who works in the tax law group at Torkin Manes LLP in Toronto,

In another case about interpreting a clause in the Income Tax Act, he wrote to the CRA, citing legal arguments and precedents.

"The response was, ‘We disagree.' I asked for more information, so I could explain to the client what the CRA's position was. I got the same response."

Weisman met with me and Taxpayers' Ombudsman Paul Dubé last week to talk about the need to strengthen the taxpayer bill of rights.

Earlier that day, National Revenue Minister Gail Shea had announced measures to ensure that taxpayers could complain and request a review without fear of CRA reprisal.

"People should feel free to speak up. We won't tolerate any abuse of authority by employees," she told reporters at a CRA office in Scarborough.

While there was no direct evidence of misconduct, Shea said she takes such allegations seriously. The CRA will investigate them and apply penalties, including dismissal, to employees found to be threatening taxpayers.

Dubé, a lawyer named as the first taxpayers' ombudsman in 2008, called it "a significant step forward" for those who had reservations about complaining about poor service.

In five years on the job, he's talked to a wide cross-section of taxpayers and to recipients of government benefits tied into their tax returns.

He's heard many people express concern about consequences arising from a complaint to the CRA, saying they were reluctant to exercise their rights.

That's why he asked for a 16th right to be added to the taxpayer bill of rights, hoping to increase confidence that the system would be administered fairly.

"Not only has the Minister heard and accepted my recommendation," he told the news conference, "but the CRA is committed to implementing it."

Complaints about employee misconduct would go to a person's supervisor, Dubé told me. This was unacceptable, given a common perception that bosses stick up for their staff.

From now on, complaints about misconduct will be investigated by a separate office within the CRA, similar to the internal affairs department of the police.

The taxpayer bill of rights has no legal force and does not cover tax policy. It talks about rights to privacy and confidentiality, timely information and relief from penalties and interest because of extraordinary circumstances.

Under the 11th right, the CRA says it will be accountable for what it does: "When we make a decision about your tax or benefit affairs, we will explain that decision and tell you about your rights and obligations."

That didn't happen to Marc Weisman's clients. But if he runs into problems again, he can submit a reprisal complaintand know it will be investigated independently of the office associated with the complaint.

There's a toll-free number to call the Office of the Taxpayers' Ombudsman, 1-866-586-3839. Those outside Canada and the United States can call 613-946-2310. "Please note that we accept collect calls," says the website.

Here's a previous article I wrote about the ombudsman.

Ellen Roseman writes about personal finance and consumer issues. You can reach her at or www.ellenroseman.com