Canada spurred to action after billions lost in corporate tax revenue

TORONTO (Reuters) - Canada has ramped up efforts to enforce corporate tax compliance, boosting funding for government auditors and bolstering transparency within companies, with two recent reports revealing billions of dollars in lost tax revenues every year.

FILE PHOTO: A sign is pictured in front of the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) national headquarters in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada March 13, 2017. REUTERS/Chris Wattie/File Photo

The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) released a report last week showing a corporate tax gap of up to C$11.4 billion ($8.7 billion) before audits in 2014.

A day later, the Parliamentary Budget Officer estimated a “hypothetical” figure of C$25 billion in unpaid taxes in 2016 due to Canadian corporations engaging in transactions between offshore countries. Some of the transactions were suspected of avoiding Canadian taxes by shifting profits to low or no-tax jurisdictions.

The Department of Finance told Reuters Canada’s tax gap estimates are comparable to other countries, but steps were being taken to rectify the problem. They said Bill C-82, which works to prevent the shifting of profits to low or no-tax locations, was passed as law last week.

Some recent measures, including additional funding for CRA, has resulted in 1,100 offshore audits and 50 criminal investigations linked to offshore transactions, the department said.

The government has also amended Canada’s Business Corporations Act in May 2018 to require federally incorporated corporations to maintain beneficial ownership information and be more accessible to authorities.

The government has also invested over C$1 billion in strengthening the CRA over three budgets, and earmarked an extra C$150.8 million to fund auditors over five years in the 2019 budget.

The tax non-compliance is resulting in money for healthcare, childcare, education and green infrastructure being lost, said Toby Sanger, executive director of Canadians for Tax Fairness, a non-profit organization that advocates for progressive tax policies.

Sanger said that the proposed federal universal pharmacare program that would create a single-payer system for prescription drugs would be funded if the unpaid taxes were recovered.

Sanger recommends setting up a beneficial ownership registry for corporations to improve transparency and increase funding to fight offshore tax evasion.

Brian Kingston, vice president of international fiscal policy at the Business Council of Canada, which represents the CEOs of 150 Canadian companies, said they support the federal government’s efforts to improve beneficial ownership transparency to combat financial crimes, but it should balance the privacy of individuals and protect the competitiveness of businesses.

Reducing the complexity of the tax system by modernizing through digital tools would help in tax compliance and reduce the need for audits, Kingston added.

Jonathan Farrar, a professor of taxation at Wilfred Laurier University, Bill C-82 and strengthening transparency are steps in the right direction, but would mean “more future legal battles over the meaning of words in the legislation and the intent of the legislation.”

Reporting by Tyler Choi; Editing by Susan Thomas