March 17, 2018 11:00 am

COMMENTARY: With great tax-collecting power comes great responsibility to taxpayers

The Canada Revenue Authority has the power to collect taxes, but Rob Breakenridge says that doesn't give it the right to run amok.

Lars Hagberg/Canadian Press/File

In his 2015 mandate letter to the national revenue minister, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spelled out his expectation that “people who interact with the CRA (Canada Revenue Agency) feel like valued clients, not just taxpayers.”

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I will confess to having been fortunate enough to have had minimal direct interaction with the CRA. I was contacted recently by a CRA representative looking to clarify something on my last tax return. He was courteous and professional and you might even say I felt like a valued client. Many Canadians have likely had similar experiences.

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For too many other Canadians, however, the CRA has fallen well short of that. And it’s not just the flowery language in Trudeau’s mandate letter that demands better of the CRA. The courts have established that the agency has a “duty of care” to Canadians.

It is understandable that we must bestow a considerable amount of power upon a government revenue collection agency. It’s necessary that taxpayers must self-report, and there must be a deterrent to doing so dishonestly. The CRA must also be able to pursue and hold accountable those who would attempt to unlawfully avoid or evade taxes.

The CRA, therefore, has the power to destroy lives. We must take the misuse and abuse of that power very seriously.

It’s been well-documented that the CRA has had considerable issues when it comes to providing timely and reliable service to Canadian taxpayers, and it’s not clear that much has been done to address that. But when the most egregious of abuses come to light, Canadians should demand clear and immediate action from our government.

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The case of Tony and Helen Samaroo deserves much more attention than it has thus far received, and the treatment suffered by this couple at the hands of the CRA should horrify us. If this government agency can put these two through hell for 10 years, what’s stopping them from doing it to any other Canadian?

Before descending into the gory details, it should be noted that at the moment, the Samaroos’ ordeal may not be over. The proper thing at this point would be for the CRA and the national revenue minister to apologize, but that has not happened. And despite vindication in criminal court and civil court, the Samaroos may yet still have to face the mighty CRA in tax court.

The CRA, of course, has endless resources at its disposal, whereas individual Canadians do not. As the lawyer for the Samaroos put it to me, “even if you win you’ll lose.”

Back in 2008, the Samaroos were charged with 21 counts of tax evasion after the CRA accused them of stealing $1.7 million from their Nanaimo, B.C., restaurant. Three years later, they were acquitted of all charges.

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The Samaroos believed that they had been the victims of a gross injustice, and so they sued the CRA for malicious prosecution. As was made clear in the ruling earlier this month from B.C.’s trial court, “gross injustice” only begins to describe it. “High-handed, reprehensible, and malicious,” are some of the words used by Justice Robert Punnett.

His ruling makes for some harrowing reading. For one thing, there was never a case against the Samaroos to begin with. The judge found that “the charges never should have proceeded” and that senior CRA investigator Keith Kendal “knew that the necessary evidence was not available.”

It gets worse. Not only was there “suppressing and misstating of evidence” but “inculpatory evidence was created.” Created. Let that sink in for a moment. Any decent person would be shocked by this, but instead “CRA employees looked forward with unprofessional glee to the plaintiffs’ anticipated conviction and sentencing and their resulting ruination.”

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Essentially, the judge is saying here that CRA officials went out of their way to destroy the Samaroos and then laughed about it. As the judge himself says, “The manner in which the prosecution was initiated and carried out was egregious. It must be denounced.”

It absolutely must be denounced, in the strongest possible language. And that needs to start at the top with those elected officials who oversee the CRA. An agency with the resources and the power of the CRA simply cannot be allowed to run amok.

Rob Breakenridge is host of “Afternoons with Rob Breakenridge” on Global News Radio 770 Calgary and a commentator for Global News. 

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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