How we combat tax evasion and avoidance
The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) is actively pursuing businesses and individuals that engage in tax non-compliance or tax fraud in Canada and abroad.
What is tax evasion
When an individual or business falsifies records and claims, hides income or inflates expenses in order to intentionally avoid complying with Canada’s tax laws, it is considered tax evasion.
Tax evasion, unlike tax avoidance, has criminal consequences. A criminal investigation may result in prosecution in criminal court, which could lead to court imposed fines, imprisonment, and a criminal record.
Learn more: Tax evasion
What is tax avoidance
When tax planning reduces taxes in a way that is inconsistent with the overall spirit of the law, the arrangements are referred to as tax avoidance. The CRA's interpretation of the term "tax avoidance" includes all unacceptable and abusive tax planning. Aggressive tax planning refers to arrangements that push the limits of acceptable tax planning.
Tax evasion and avoidance have often revolved around secrecy and hiding assets, transactions, income, and wealth. What has changed over the years is the sophistication of the arrangements used by taxpayers and their representatives.
With historic and continued budget investments by the Government of Canada directed at collaboration with domestic and international partners, technological advancements, and sources of information, the CRA is well positioned to make sure everyone pays the taxes they owe. These measures help the CRA target those who push or exceed the legal limits of tax planning to evade or avoid taxes and side-step reporting obligations.
Those who wilfully choose not to fulfill their tax obligations can face serious consequences, including criminal charges, prosecution, court imposed fines, jail time, and a criminal record.
We share data and exchange information
Co-operation amongst tax administrations, including sharing data and tax information, is essential to protect the integrity of Canada's tax base and maintaining Canadians’ confidence in our self-reporting system.
The CRA protects all data that is exchanged with other jurisdictions. Information exchanged under a tax treaty, agreement or convention must be used only for the purposes stated in the relevant instrument, and the details of all exchanges are confidential.
Canada’s treaty network supports the CRA in obtaining and exchanging information for the purpose of combatting tax evasion and avoidance.
Common Reporting Standard
The Common Reporting Standard (CRS) is a global standard for the automatic exchange of financial account information between tax administrations annually. Canada and over 100 other jurisdictions have implemented the CRS. It is an important tool for promoting tax compliance, combatting international tax evasion and avoidance, and helping ensure that taxpayers report their income from all sources and appropriately disclose their offshore assets and holdings.
Since the CRA started exchanging information under the CRS in 2018, over six million records have been exchanged.
Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act
In 2014, changes were enacted to the Income Tax Act in Canada to implement the Enhanced International Information Reporting and the related intergovernmental agreement associated with the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) was signed between Canada and the United States (U.S.). Under the agreement and the Canadian legislation and the intergovernmental agreement, Canadian financial institutions are required to report specific information to the CRA for financial accounts held in Canada by U.S. residents and U.S. citizens. The CRA then provides this information to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) on an annual basis through the provisions and safeguards of the Canada-U.S. tax treaty. The IRS reciprocates by providing similar information to the CRA on an annual basis.
Access to international electronic funds transfers
Since January 2015, certain financial intermediaries, including banks, have been required to report international electronic funds transfers (EFTs) of $10,000 or more to the CRA. This is detailed financial transaction information related to international wire transfers entering or leaving Canada. This information helps the CRA to identify taxpayers who may be participating in aggressive tax avoidance or who may be attempting to conceal income and assets offshore.
For the period of April 2016 to March 2020, the CRA completed reviews of all EFTs reported that were associated with jurisdiction or financial institutions of concern, otherwise known as the Jurisdiction of Concern (JOC) project. Generally speaking jurisdictions or financial institutions of concern are usually those that operate in countries that have low or no effective tax rate or have banking secrecy or confidentiality laws that provide for anonymity.
The JOC project is now complete and intelligence derived from this project is now integrated into the CRA’s risk assessment processes. Currently, the CRA can automatically match and integrate the EFT data with other information in our internal systems, allowing for improved risk assessment. This allows the CRA to identify the highest-risk taxpayers across multiple jurisdictions and financial institutions.
The CRA now uses the EFT data to assess risk and identify taxpayers with potential offshore non-compliance issues.
Country-by-country reporting is a collaborative approach that allows countries to share revenue and profit information on their large multinational enterprises. It helps the CRA to better assess the risks of whether these companies are paying the right amount of tax in each country. The first information exchanges took place in summer 2018.
Learn more: Country-by-Country Reporting
We collaborate internationally
Through the Forum on Tax Administration (FTA) of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), over 50 tax administrations work together to share best practices and emerging trends, deal with international risks, and improve compliance and the overall delivery of tax administration.
The Commissioner of the CRA is currently the FTA chair. The FTA is the only Commissioner-level organization in the world that focuses on issues of mutual interest to all tax administrations. It harnesses the collective expertise of its members to address issues of common interest and concern. As a group, the FTA works together to put in place the global standards that help to ensure greater tax certainty, transparency, and fairness, as well as prevent tax evasion and avoidance. This helps to create a global level playing field in tax.
Joint International Taskforce on Shared Intelligence and Collaboration
The CRA is a member of the Joint International Taskforce on Shared Intelligence and Collaboration (JITSIC) network, which brings together 42 of the world's national tax administrations to find ways to collaborate on a spectrum of international tax risks. The JITSIC network offers an effective and well-established platform to enable its members to cooperate on individual cases, as well as share their experience, resources, and expertise to tackle the issues they face in common.
For example, when the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists released information on data leaks, referred to as the Pandora Papers, in October 2021, the strong partnerships established through the JITSIC network ensured that members were well positioned to work collaboratively and share information.
However, like tax administrations, JITSIC operates under strict rules designed to protect the confidentiality of information and the confidence of taxpayers. As a consequence, much of the work of JITSIC is not always visible to the public.
Joint Chiefs of Global Tax Enforcement
The Joint Chiefs of Global Tax Enforcement, known as the J5, is a powerful multicountry, operational alliance that leads the fight against international tax crime.
The J5 was formed in June 2018 following a call to action from the OECD for countries to more effectively tackle the enablers of tax crime. The J5 consists of tax administration offices from the following five countries that face common threats:
- the Australian Taxation Office
- the CRA
- the Fiscale Inlichtingen- en Opsporingsdienst from the Netherlands
- His Majesty’s Revenue & Customs from the United Kingdom
- the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Criminal Investigation from the United States
Exchange of taxpayer-specific rulings
As part of the OECD’s Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) project, Canada has committed to the spontaneous exchange of information on tax rulings with certain other countries. In the context of the BEPS project, countries agreed to exchange information on the following types of rulings:
- cross-border rulings related to preferential regimes (for Canada this would include international shipping and certain foreign life insurance operations of a Canadian company)
- cross-border rulings related to transfer pricing legislation
- cross-border rulings providing a downward adjustment not directly reflected in the taxpayers’ accounts
- permanent establishment rulings
- related party conduit rulings
If a Ruling falls into one of the above categories, a summary of its contents may be exchanged with the countries of residence of the immediate parent company, the ultimate parent company and certain other parties. As such, taxpayers making a Ruling request must include sufficient information to allow the CRA to identify the relevant parties for such exchanges. For more information, see the OECD website under BEPS.
We focus on offshore tax evasion and avoidance
One of the CRA’s top priorities is to protect the integrity and fairness of Canada’s tax system by addressing tax evasion and avoidance on all levels. This commitment includes tightening the net around wealthy individuals, promoters, corporations, and entities who try to avoid and evade taxes and who conceal assets and income offshore.
We recognize that the majority of Canadian taxpayers comply with their tax obligations. However, there are those that knowingly challenge and test the limits of Canada’s self-assessment tax system.
These individuals use their wealth to create complex tax arrangements and initiate litigation to avoid providing documents and information to the CRA during an examination, audit, or investigation. Through increased audit coverage, extensive data sources, international alliances, and enhanced analytical approaches, the CRA has greatly strengthened its ability to detect and deter the most serious instances of non-compliance.
Offshore data leaks
While the CRA can gain useful information from data leaks, it does not depend on these leaks to tackle offshore non-compliance. Through advancements such as EFTs, the CRS, and the CRA’s Offshore Tax Informant Program, as well as the significant expansion of its key audit programs, the CRA is well positioned to ensure wealthy Canadians pay their taxes.
Audits resulting from data leaks can be intricate and lengthy. As such, additional taxes and penalties owing are anticipated in the future as more complex and challenging data leak audits are completed.
In 2016, the "Panama Papers" were released, which included approximately 11.5 million documents held by the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca.
Analyzing the Panama Papers was complicated by the lack of financial information provided in the data leak, and the fact that some taxpayers create complex structures to deliberately hide their assets. The CRA's initial information gathering, data analysis, and risk assessment of the data leak took over 3 years to complete. Through this process, the CRA identified over 900 Canadian individuals, corporations, and trusts to review in order to identify any with potential tax non-compliance.
As of May 2022:
- CRA has completed over 240 taxpayer audits linked to the Panama Papers, resulting in assessments of more than $61 million in federal taxes and penalties
- Another 160 taxpayer audits are currently ongoing
It is important to highlight that holding an offshore bank account or assets does not necessarily mean there is any tax wrongdoing. In the Panama Papers:
- Over 60% of Canadian taxpayers identified were found to be compliant with their tax filing and reporting obligations
In addition to conducting audits, the CRA investigates individuals and businesses involved in suspected cases of tax evasion and tax fraud, both domestically and internationally. This work is carried out in the Criminal Investigations Program.
As of March 31, 2022:
- There have been 5 criminal investigations of tax evasion related to the Panama Papers:
- 3 cases were discontinued at the investigation stage
- 2 are currently ongoing, no criminal charges have been laid
In 2017, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) released the "Paradise Papers," which contain over 13.4 million confidential electronic documents relating to offshore investments.
Since the release of the Paradise Papers, the CRA has reviewed all the taxpayers identified with a potential connection to Canada.
The audits will take several years to complete as many taxpayers have resisted providing access to books and records, and they are also using litigation in the courts to obstruct CRA audits. As a result, these audits can be time consuming and complex.
As of May 2022:
- The CRA has completed approximately 30 taxpayer audits linked to the Paradise Papers, resulting in assessments of more than $1.6 million in federal taxes and penalties. Another 27 taxpayer audits are currently ongoing.
- The CRA has also completed audits of approximately 40 Economic Groups linked to the Paradise Papers in the course of its existing large business audit program.
Every data leak poses its own unique challenges. However, the CRA learned many lessons from the Panama and Paradise papers that are guiding how it manages another recent release by the ICIJ, the "Pandora Papers."
This release contains almost 12 million documents that reveal hidden wealth, tax avoidance and, in some cases, money laundering.
The CRA has been analyzing the two datasets, released in December 2021 and May 2022:
- We are identifying Canadians who pose a risk of tax non- compliance
- Over 400 Canadians have been linked to this data leak and risk assessment and compliance actions are ongoing
Additionally, the CRA is working with our international partners to pool resources and share information.
We use compliance and legal tools
The CRA continues to use tools such as enhanced business intelligence and advanced data analysis to improve the risk assessments of individuals and businesses. For example, every year the CRA uses electronic tools to conduct risk assessments of the corporate tax returns of all large businesses. This improves our ability to identify high-risk transactions and allows us to focus our audit resources in the areas of highest risk.
Through a variety of effective legal tools, the CRA pursues taxpayers that knowingly challenge and test the limits of Canada’s self-assessment tax system. By taking over 2,500 high complexity cases to the courts, including the Supreme Court of Canada, the CRA is sending a strong message that it won’t back down in its efforts to uncover and identify remedies for critical tax loopholes that may be exploited by the taxpayers.
We are also working diligently with our partners in the Department of Finance Canada and the Department of Justice Canada to evaluate and propose new and enhanced tax legislation and policy that will help us close tax loopholes used by promoters and tax advisors to help their clients avoid paying the appropriate amount of taxes.
General anti-avoidance rule
Since 1988, the CRA has invoked the general anti-avoidance rule (GAAR) when a taxpayer attempts to circumvent or exploit the intent of Canada’s tax rules and avoid paying their fair share. The GAAR’s purpose is to deny tax benefits to taxpayers that are not in accordance with the object, spirit or purpose of the Income Tax Act and Excise Tax Act, even if they comply with a literal reading of the legislation.
As of 2022, the CRA has applied the GAAR to more than 1,800 cases as a remedy to aggressive tax avoidance. The number of taxpayers whose tax returns were reassessed as a result is much greater, though, because many tax avoidance schemes involved multiple partners, related parties or groups of investors.
For more information about the GAAR, go to: General Anti-Avoidance Rule - Section 245 of the I.T
Unnamed persons requirement
The CRA has expanded its information sources by better leveraging ongoing audits findings and third-party data as intelligence that help to support the use of unnamed persons requirements (UPRs) aimed at identifying additional non-compliant taxpayers.
To better detect activity in new and emerging sectors, such as crypto-asset and platform economy activities, the CRA has increased its use of information from third parties. UPRs are a legal tool used to gather information from third parties (such as, crypto-asset intermediaries facilitating crypto-asset transactions) to identify taxpayers and registrants involved in crypto-asset activities and other digital economy environments. As a result, the CRA is better leveraging audits findings and third-party data to obtain authorization from the courts to use unnamed persons requirements (UPRs) in identifying non-compliant taxpayers and addressing non-compliance.
The CRA also uses the information obtained through UPRs to identify beneficial owners of offshore entities, offshore bank and investment accounts.
In addition, the CRA issues UPRs to property developers and builders that have information about buyers involved in an assignment sale. This information is used to identify taxpayers who may not be reporting income tax or GST/HST.
Learn more: Unnamed persons requirements in real estate
The CRA may seek a compliance order from the Federal Court of Canada under the Income Tax Act or the Excise Tax Act when a taxpayer or third-party fails to comply with a request or requirement for information.
The CRA enlists the Department of Justice to seek a compliance order where the information requested is not being provided. A judge must be satisfied that the taxpayer was required under legislation to provide what is being requested and be assured it is not subject to solicitor-client or litigation privilege.
Failure or refusal to comply with a court imposed compliance order could result in the person being found in contempt of court, and potentially resulting in possible fines or jail time.
We conduct criminal investigations
Suspected cases of tax evasion, tax fraud and other serious violations of tax laws are investigated and, where appropriate, referred to the Public Prosecution Service of Canada (PPSC) for possible criminal prosecution.
Criminal investigations process
A criminal investigation involves many steps such as gathering evidence, interviewing taxpayers and witnesses, executing search warrants and analyzing evidence. The length of time required to investigate depends on the complexity of the case, the number of individuals or corporations involved, the availability of evidence, the need for international requests for assistance and the level of cooperation of witnesses, all of which serves to determine whether criminal charges are warranted.
In a CRA criminal investigation, investigators prepare a comprehensive report based on the results of the investigation, and send it to the PPSC where charges are believed to be warranted. The PPSC will then independently review the evidence and decide whether to initiate and conduct a prosecution on behalf of the federal Crown.
The CRA selects cases based on priority and impact on compliance. Our enhanced strategic file selection process results in the targeting the most serious and complex cases.
Learn more: The CRA's criminal investigations process
As of March 31, 2022:
- 50% of most complex criminal investigations included the potential for taxes evaded of $1 million or more.
For the five-year period from April 1, 2017, to March 31, 2022:
- The courts convicted 140 taxpayers for tax evasion of more than $72 million in federal tax combined.
- These convictions resulted in sentences totaling almost $17 million in court fines and 119 years in jail
Investigating bigger cases has impacted the types of cases that are prosecuted by the PPSC. When comparing the last five fiscal years to the previous five, there has been an increase in the average amount of federal tax evaded per conviction. For example, the average evaded tax determined upon conviction is 73% higher than what it was previously ($299,000 from April 1, 2012, to March 31, 2017, compared to $517K from April 1, 2017, to March 31, 2022).
Over the last five fiscal years, we have also seen an increase in the number of convicted taxpayers that received jail time. In fact, nearly half of taxpayers were imposed a jail sentence by the courts, as opposed to only a third during the 2012 to 2017 fiscal years. In addition, between April 1, 2017, and March 31, 2022, the average fine increased by 14% compared to the previous five-year period, rising to an average of $122,000.
Publication of prosecutions
The CRA publicizes results of prosecutions. The CRA may also, on occasion, release prejudgment information at different stages of a criminal investigation or prosecution, including, but not limited to, the execution of a search warrant, seizure of assets, and/or the laying of criminal charges. Publishing this information serves to maintain the integrity of the tax system and warns Canadians about potential illegal tax schemes.
Learn more: Enforcement notifications: compliance actions
We keep you informed about tax schemes
A key part of the CRA’s compliance strategy is to target promoters of tax schemes.
Tax schemes are plans and arrangements that attempt to deceive taxpayers by promising to reduce the taxes they owe, often through large deductions or promises of tax-free income.
"Promoters" are individuals or corporations who promote or sell schemes that seek to break or bend the rules of the Canadian tax laws. These promoters deliberately make false statements to assist their clients in tax cheating. As a result, these promoters obtain a financial benefit from the remuneration they receive from their client.
Through increased audits of promoters, improved intelligence gathering, and better communication with taxpayers, the CRA continues to identify and shut down illegitimate tax shelters and tax schemes. Those who choose to participate in or promote these schemes may face serious consequences, including penalties, court-imposed fines, and possibly even jail time.
Learn more: Tax schemes
We report on results
Focusing resources on the highest-risk files means the CRA is tightening the net around those individuals, promoters, corporations, and entities who try to avoid paying their taxes. This work is having an impact and the CRA is committed to giving Canadians access to the results of its important work against tax evasion and avoidance.
Learn more: Better results: The CRA at work for you
How you can help the CRA
- Offshore Tax Informant Program (OTIP)
You may be eligible for a reward when you tell the CRA about international tax non-compliance through the Offshore Tax Information Program (OTIP).
The OTIP was launched in January 2014 as part of CRA’s efforts to combat international tax evasion and avoidance.
It allows for financial rewards to be made to individuals who provide specific and credible information related to major international tax non-compliance that leads to the collection of at least $100,000 in federal taxes owing.
As of March 31, 2022:
The CRA encourages anyone, no matter where they are in the world, to come forward if they have information about major international tax non-compliance.
By reporting on suspected international tax non-compliance, informants are not only benefiting from the possible rewards, but contributing to the administration of a fair tax system where everyone pays their taxes. This ensures greater resources are available for public facilities such as schools, roads and hospitals; as well as for the delivery of services and programs to Canadians.
- the OTIP received approximately 1,000 written submissions,
- nearly 650 taxpayers have been identified for audit base on information the CRA has received through the program; and
- the program has facilitated audits that have uncovered approximately $113 million in additional federal taxes and penalties.
- Leads Program
If you suspect a person, business or charity of tax or benefit cheating in Canada, report them to the CRA by submitting a lead to the Leads Program.
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