W5: Auditing the taxman
Victor Malarek interviews fishermen who fought CRA unfair treatment.
George Hoff, W5 Producer
Published Saturday, February 18, 2012 6:54PM EST
Producing stories on the Canada Revenue Agency presents a number of challenges. For the past three years W5 has investigated cases where the CRA has erred in its rulings against Canadian taxpayers. In all the cases we have waited until a court ruled on a particular case.
For example, last year I learned about the case W5 investigates this year involving more than 700 fishermen in Newfoundland and Quebec. However the case was still before Federal Court so we waited until this year to report on this important case where more than 700 fishermen were treated unfairly by the CRA.
Some of our cases have come from you, our audience. After each CRA episode we receive hundreds of e-mails about your cases. We follow up on many but, as I have explained, W5 needs to know that the case has been ruled on by a court. This means that many complaints need to be monitored as it can take years for them to work through the judicial system.
Another avenue for finding cases is to read through the rulings by the Tax Court of Canada and even Federal Court. This involves many, many hours of reading the rulings by judges and then following up with tax payers as well as lawyers and accountants.
The fact is that many of the Canadians W5 contacts want to tell their story about their experiences with the CRA but are afraid. They tell us that they believe there will be some form of retribution from the CRA if they go public with their story.
In many cases the initial reaction we get from a taxpayer who has fought the CRA in court is a desire to tell us all about it. This year one taxpayer we contacted was almost in tears when we first talked. He desperately wanted to tell his story to W5. But then he changed his mind and stopped taking our calls altogether.
For three years now W5 has asked the government for an interview about how the CRA handles disputed cases. Every year we have been turned down. This year the office of the Commissioner of the CRA, Linda Lizotte-MacPherson sent W5 a letter saying; "Regrettably, we must decline the request." We also requested an interview with the Minister of Revenue, Gail Shea. The response from her office was much shorter, an email that provided no reasons stating only "we will be declining your request."
While it is frustrating that the government refuses to talk to W5 we will keep pursuing interview requests.
Another avenue we are pursuing is through Access to Information requests. The CRA will not discuss specific cases with W5. So we have requested all emails, memos and other communications from CRA and the Minister of Revenue about our coverage. This week we learned that there are 2,000 pages that refer to W5. Those documents will be made available to us in the coming weeks. Needless to say we will be pouring through them to see if there is anything relevant to our continuing investigations of the Canada Revenue Agency and how it treats Canadians.
Every year after W5's CRA investigation is broadcast we hear from many taxpayers who are also doing battle with the taxman. They provide a jumping off point for future stories and show that many Canadians feel ill-treated by the tax department and are demanding fairness.
Watch the full report on W5, Saturday at 7 pm (check local listings)