According to The Superintendent of Bankruptcy Canada, “Bankruptcy is a legal process that can provide relief to honest but unfortunate individuals who are unable to pay their debts.”
The case of Van Eeuwen proves that bankruptcy is not looked upon favourably by the CRA as a way of ignoring your tax responsibilities.
The taxpayer in this case declared bankruptcy at a time when he owed $770,000 in taxes, interest and penalties to the CRA, which made up 85% of his total debts. He had failed to file income tax returns from 1993 to 2004. Subsequent returns were filed late and payments to the CRA did not cover his liabilities. He was fined $101,000 in 2007 for tax evasion which he never paid.
The question to be answered is whether a person can simply ignore his tax responsibilities and expect to clear the slate by subsequently declaring bankruptcy.
The answer is a resounding no.
The court explained that this was a “tax-driven” bankruptcy, which should be treated differently than other bankruptcies:
A bankrupt who does not pay his tax liabilities is not an honest and unfortunate debtor. He is taking advantage of the fact that taxes are not collected by source deductions. This is misconduct. A taxpayer should not be permitted to not pay taxes when he incurs it, and when the liability reaches a large amount go into bankruptcy and piously say that he cannot now pay that large debt and it has caused his bankruptcy. Self-employed income earners cannot be allowed to evade their legal obligation to pay income tax through resort to the [ Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act ].
When a bankruptcy is tax-driven, the integrity of the bankruptcy system requires the courts to take into account not only the debtor’s interest and the creditor’s interest, but also the public interest in ensuring that every taxpayer makes an equitable contribution to the costs of operating the public sector.
This is not a case where a bankrupt incurs a liability expecting to pay it from future income which does not materialize. This is an income driven liability. It was supposed to be paid from the income as it was earned. This is not a case of cannot. It is a case of will not. The money was there to pay the taxes when they were incurred. In cases such as this, the overriding principle must be a message. The message is that tax cheaters are free riders and they are not to be absolved from that.
In the end, the taxpayer was given a discharge, conditional upon the payment of $180,000 to the CRA at a rate of $2,500 per month, which represented 60% of his tax debts, excluding interest and penalties.
And so, while declaring bankruptcy will certainly be a way to clear your debts in most cases, be aware that the courts may not grant an unconditional discharge where your debts are mostly owed to the tax authorities.