It’s Christmas time, and that’s got the CRA thinking about gifts – taxing them, that is. The recent case of Shaw v. R. is a cautionary tale for anyone who believes that a gift of cash is never taxable to the recipient.
When a taxpayer tries to take advantage of technicalities in the Income Tax Act (“ITA”) to his advantage, it’s called an abuse of the provisions of the ITA. If the taxpayer is successful, the law is usually changed.
When the CRA taxes an amount of income twice, using the provisions of the law to its benefit, well, that’s just the way it is, end of story. In a previous article, we described a case where the CRA unsuccessfully attempted to tax the same amount of income twice. In the case of Shaw, they succeeded.
Mr. Shaw was a long time employee of a private company called Robert Ltd. Mr. Robert, the owner, apparently did very well and sold the assets of the company to CEDA International. At the time of the sale Mr. Robert had substantial amounts owing to him by his company which had been taxed as bonuses in previous years and credited to his shareholder loan account.
After the sale, Mr. Robert wanted to reward his long-time managers. He sent them each an amount of cash from Robert Ltd., representing $10,000 for each year of service, along with a letter thanking them for their loyal service, and assuring them that these amounts were tax-paid gifts that would be charged to his shareholder loan account and therefore not taxed in their hands. Only one condition was attached to the gift, and that was that they remain employees of CEDA International. Mr. Shaw received $140,000.
Section 6(1)(a) of the ITA provides that all “benefits of any kind whatever” are to be included as employment income if they were received “in respect of, in the course of, or by virtue of an office or employment.”
In this case, the court explained that subsection 6(1)(a) is a broadly worded provision and that the amounts received by Mr. Shaw fell into the category of a taxable employee benefit. The amount was calculated based on his number of years of service, and also came with the condition that he remain employed by the purchaser. Accordingly, the payment, regardless of who made it and what form it took, was made by virtue of Mr. Shaw’s employment.
What is unfair in this scenario is, of course, the fact that the amounts paid had been taxed previously; so in assessing Mr. Shaw, the CRA was essentially successful in taxing the same amount of income twice. It didn’t matter that the person who paid the amount was not the employer, nor did it matter that Mr. Shaw was no longer an employee of Robert Ltd. at the time the amount was paid.
This case should be seen as a warning to those who believe they can avoid tax by directing funds to another person on the premise that it is a gift. The CRA will always look to the underlying reason for any payment and apply the provisions of the ITA accordingly, regardless of whether or not it seems fair to the parties involved.
And no, don’t expect the law to be changed to prevent such an unfair result in the future.