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Audit nightmare

By Kevin Gaudet
web posted January 18, 2010

Imagine the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) shows up at your door to do an audit.  As if that alone isn't scary enough, they proceed to take both copies of your documents, originals and photocopies  -- without your permission.  They lose or destroy these key originals. Then they assess hefty tax bills against you because you cannot provide documents in your defense.  CRA mistakenly demands you pay $800,000 in taxes allegedly owed.  This helps ruin your business, leaving you broke. Does this sound far-fetched?  Not according to British Columbia's Mr. Irvin Leroux, who has lost everything fighting for 14 years against such bully tactics by the CRA.

His treatment outraged his MP, the long-serving Dick Harris, who took up his cause with the former Minister of National Revenue. According to Mr. Leroux, his MP was told by the Minister that the CRA couldn't pro-actively compensate Mr. Leroux for his loss, but that he could sue the government and they would offer a settlement.

As ridiculous as it is that Mr. Leroux has been forced to sue the Canadian government to get back some or all of what he has lost in his lengthy tax fight fiasco, not a nickel has been offered. In this case it appears the federal government made a mistake; a big one at that. They should just admit it, apologize for it, and settle out of court with Mr. Leroux. Instead, they are playing the Goliath against his David, fighting him in court and denying any wrong-doing on their part.

The latest tactic employed by government lawyers, scheduled for court at the end of this January, has been to argue that Leroux's lawsuit has no merit as his tax case was resolved earlier. 

The issue of taxes owing was resolved by a judge only after Leroux fought in tax court to prove he owed no money. The case was settled in 2005 with the CRA agreeing that he had actually overpaid his taxes. They were required to pay him a small refund.

The CRA's attitude seems to be 'oh well, this issue is over.' But it isn't over for Mr. Leroux who is struggling to pick up the pieces after CRA's withering 14 year campaign against him.

Their campaign against him drained him of cash, aggravated by the expense of legal and accounting fees and triggered a domino effect. Mortgagees began foreclosing, and Leroux's properties were sold off for one-third of their value. When the dust settled, the creditors were paid, but nothing was left for Leroux. Once he had been comfortably set for a secure retirement. Now he is virtually destitute, living on CPP and Old Age Security. He now has recurring nightmares about being homeless and scrounging for food in garbage cans. 

While taxpayers certainly don't want the government tossing money away unnecessarily, governments must do the right thing to correct its mistakes.

Do Revenue Minister Blackburn and Justice Minister Nicholson really not know what is going on here? Are they really condoning this attack on a tax-paying Canadian? Perhaps they simply have no idea what the government's lawyers have been doing?

Irvin Leroux is an ordinary Canadian who trusted his government to be honest and decent towards him. He paid taxes like he was supposed to – overpaid, in fact. His government turned on him and has ruined him.

This is a case either of rogue tax collectors or of systemic abuse by the CRA. Taxpayers should hope it is the former; that rogue tax collectors were running amok and made life hell for Mr. Leroux. Why would they do this? Because they can. The powers of our tax collectors are enormous and stacked against the little guy. If you mange to get on their bad side then look out because this case shows what the CRA, when roused, can do to you.

The cabinet ministers involved should instruct their lawyers to negotiate a way out of this shameful episode. It further damages the already tarnished reputation of the CRA, and continues to punish a taxpayer who has already gone through too much.

The end of the year has passed by and many people took stock of the year that was and made resolutions for this new year. If politicians did this they first would realize that there is much work to be done. ESR

Kevin Gaudet is the federal director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. © 2010, Kevin Gaudet






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