In the case of CIBC v R., the CRA disallowed a deduction for expenses solely on the basis that the taxpayer’s conduct was morally reprehensible. The tax court agreed, and The Federal Court of Appeal was asked to rule on this question.
The issue in this case was the deductibility of $3 billion in payments made by the CIBC to settle litigation in the U.S. relating to the bankruptcy of Enron Corporation. The CIBC was named as a co-defendant in the case, and the settlement was paid to avoid being jointly and severally liable with Enron for its part in the dissemination of misleading financial information.
In disallowing the settlement amount as a tax deduction, the CRA argued:
The misconduct of [CIBC and its affiliates] was so egregious and repulsive that any consequential settlement payments [...] cannot be justified as being incurred for the purpose of gaining or producing income from a business or property …. The [CIBC affiliates] knowingly aided and abetted Enron to violate the United States’ federal securities laws and falsify its financial statements. The misconduct of [the CIBC affiliates] in enabling Enron to perpetrate its frauds, known to [CIBC], or the misconduct of [CIBC] itself, was so extreme, and the consequences so dire, that it could not be part of the business of a bank.
If you know your tax history, you will recognize the CRA’s words as stemming from the comments made by the Supreme Court of Canada in the case of 65302 British Columbia Ltd. v. R. In that case, the taxpayer deducted quota penalties it was charged for the over-production of eggs. The quotas were intentionally exceeded in order to maintain a major customer. The court in that case allowed the deduction, but also stated, with regard to penalties in general that:
It is conceivable that a breach could be so egregious or repulsive that the fine subsequently imposed could not be justified as being incurred for the purpose of producing income.
In the end, Finance enacted a provision which generally disallows the deduction of any government penalties. But, the CIBC case did not involve penalties, and there is no specific provision of the Income Tax Act that would disallow a settlement payment based solely on the moral conduct of the taxpayer. Indeed, it is a well known fact that income from all sources, including criminal activities is taxable in Canada.
So, in the end, the Court of Appeal overturned the decision of the Tax Court and did not disallow the deduction solely on the basis of the taxpayer’s conduct. The case will, however, resurface when the time comes to judge whether the deduction should be allowed on its merits as a business expense.