In the last edition of Fiscalitems, we dealt with the deadlines and procedures involved in making an application for an extension of time to file a Notice of Objection. Although it seems harsh, the Minister of Revenue and the courts show little leeway in allowing late objections without justification, regardless of the amount of time involved. In this issue, we discuss reasons that may be set forth and whether they would result in acceptance of a late objection
Essentially, the law requires the taxpayer to establish that he was unable to act or to instruct another to act in his name, or that he had a bona fide intention to object to the assessment. A successful request for extension must either show that the taxpayer missed the deadline through no fault of his own, or that he never agreed with the assessment and has always intended to object. Both criteria do not have to be met. However, he must show that he filed an objection as soon as circumstances permitted.
What situations will find sympathy from the courts? Here are some examples:
Physical or Mental Disability: Where a taxpayer has had an accident before the assessment was made, and remained incapacitated for some period of time thereafter, or where the taxpayer suffered an illness during the relevant time, there is clear case law and Revenue Canada commentary that would suggest an extension would likely be granted. The application should highlight the unusual nature of the disability and be precise as to the timing involved.
The above situation would fall under the category of “exceptional” or “unusual” circumstance rendering the taxpayer unable to act in accordance with the law. Other such circumstances which have been accepted by the courts include natural disasters, absence from the jurisdiction and inability to communicate in either of the official languages.
Address Problems: Often, the taxpayer argues that he moved and that he never received the assessment due to an address change. Revenue Canada’s only duty is to send an assessment at the last address made available to the department by the taxpayer. If this address is used, the taxpayer has no recourse. It is his responsibility to notify Revenue Canada of an address change immediately.
Ignorance of Time Limit: Often, a taxpayer may argue that he was simply not aware of the statutory time limit involved, and that he acted as soon as he was informed. The case law here is clear: ignorance of the law is not grounds for allowing an extension. All taxpayers are informed on the actual assessment of the time limit for objection. The courts, therefore afford little sympathy to this excuse.
Reliance on a Professional: In many cases taxpayers plead that they relied on their professional advisor. Here the case law is less clear. In one case, a taxpayer returned from a vacation to find a pile of documents, including a tax assessment, on his desk. Without reading them, he simply delivered the pile to his accountant. The court dismissed the application for extension, citing a lack of special circumstances that rendered the taxpayer unable to act. Furthermore, the simple admission of fault by a professional does not automatically absolve the taxpayer of responsibility.
In order to be successful in placing reliance on a professional, the taxpayer must show that he at all times had the intention to object, was aware of his circumstances, and exercised a reasonable degree of diligence in following up his objection with his advisor. This is particularly true where the taxpayer is a businessman or someone who should be “sophisticated” in his income tax affairs.