The Taxpayer Bill of Rights is a set of fifteen statutory and administrative rights outlining the service standards that Canadian taxpayers can expect in their dealings with the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). The Bill was introduced in 2007 on the premise that increased accountability and transparency on the part of the CRA would, in turn, ensure greater compliance with tax laws on the part of taxpayers. The rights within the Bill are protected according to different processes based on whether the right is statutory or administrative. Statutory rights follow the redress process which is laid out in the Income Tax Act. For example, right 4 states that you have the right to a formal review and subsequent appeal. According to the Income Tax Act, a taxpayer has the right to object to income tax assessments and reassessments and determinations and redeterminations such as the Goods and Services Tax/harmonized sales tax (GST/HST) Credit, the Canada Child Tax Benefit, and the Disability Tax Credit by filing an objection within 90 days from the date on the notice. If the taxpayer disagrees with the CRA’s decision based on his or her objection, then the assessment or determination can be appealed to the Tax Court of Canada.
Administrative rights, such as the right to be treated professionally, courteously, and fairly, govern the relationship that the CRA has with taxpayers. They are service rights which are accorded to taxpayers by the CRA and unlike the statutory rights, they are not included in the Income Tax Act. However, service rights are upheld through the CRA- Service Complaints process and, if necessary, through the Taxpayers’ Ombudsman. None of the rights outlined in the Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights are legally enforceable under Canadian law and are essentially a set of regulatory standards for the CRA’s dealings with taxpayers. They are as follows:
- You have the right to receive entitlements and to pay no more and no less than what is required by law.
- You have the right to service in both official languages.
- You have the right to privacy and confidentiality.
- You have the right to a formal review and a subsequent appeal.
- You have the right to be treated professionally, courteously, and fairly.
- You have the right to complete, accurate, clear, and timely information.
- You have the right, as an individual, not to pay income tax amounts in dispute before you have had an impartial review.
- You have the right to have the law applied consistently.
- You have the right to lodge a service complaint and to be provided with an explanation of our findings.
- You have the right to have the costs of compliance taken into account when administering tax legislation.
- You have the right to expect us to be accountable.
- You have the right to relief from penalties and interest under tax legislation because of extraordinary circumstances.
- You have the right to expect us to publish our service standards and report annually.
- You have the right to expect us to warn you about questionable tax schemes in a timely manner.
- You have the right to be represented by a person of your choice.
In addition to the fifteen individual tax rights, the CRA introduced the CRA Commitment to Small Business which is a five-part statement outlining the ways in which the CRA pledges to support small businesses through effective and efficient interactions. This is done by reducing the amount of paperwork required of small businesses in complying with the CRA.
The Taxpayers’ Ombudsman position was also created in 2007 as a recourse mechanism for taxpayers who have filed an objection with the CRA and are not satisfied with the results of their review. The Ombudsman provides an impartial and independent review of taxpayers’ complaints only after they have been through the CRA complaint process and remain unresolved. Furthermore, the Ombudsman will only review service-related complaints. A report entitled The Right to Know written by J. Paul Dubé, Taxpayers’ Ombudsman, is a response to complaints received by taxpayers regarding their service interactions with the CRA. The Ombudsman’s website also includes a tipsheet on what you can expect when dealing with the CRA.
Since its inception, various aspects of the Taxpayer Bill of Rights have been subject to criticism by the Canadian public. The first official taxpayer rights document, the 1984 Declaration of Taxpayer Rights, contained a right pertaining to the presumption of honesty on the part of the taxpayer when substantiating a claim. The omission of this right from the Taxpayer Bill of Rights places the burden of proof squarely on the taxpayer. The Australian Taxpayers’ Charter, for instance, directly states that “We presume you tell the truth and that the information you give us is complete and accurate unless we have reason to think otherwise.”
However, the main criticism has been that the rights contained within the Taxpayer Bill of Rights are not entrenched within the law and therefore they are not legally protected. The American Taxpayer Bill of Rights by comparison is codified within the Internal Revenue Code thus ensuring greater compliance on behalf of the government and the taxpayer.
If you are interested in reading more about the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, some non-governmental sources of information include the Canada Revenue Agency Report Card by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business and the Chartered Accountants of Canada and CGA-Canada websites which both feature information on general taxation.