Canada’s Tax Act gives sweeping powers to the Canada Revenue Agency and by extension its tax collection officers, to collect the tax debts of taxpayers. In many cases, taxpayers are taken by surprise when their bank accounts are frozen, assets liened or seized and wages garnisheed. When a taxpayer is assessed or reassessed in the normal course of a tax audit, a tax debt to the Canadian tax department is legally created if there are taxes owing as a result. However, despite the fact that a tax debt has been created, there are internal limitations created by the Tax Act that prevent the CRA from taking action to collect immediately. According to section 225.1 of the Income Tax Act the CRA can only begin collection after 90 days of the sending of notice of assessment or notice of reassessment to the taxpayer.
The prescribed limitation period in the Income Tax Act is 10 years; this means that after 10 years, the Canada Revenue Agency is legally prevented from collecting on a tax debt. The Income Tax Act at subsection 222(3) provides that the CRA may not commence or continue an action to collect a tax debt after the end of the limitation period for the collection of the debt. the Tax Act also specifically allows for the Minister to extend the limitation period by virtue of subsection 222(5); the limitation period of 10 years is “reset” if the tax department carries out any action to collect the tax debt, such as sending out a demand to pay letter. Essentially, every time that the tax collectors continue with collections action, the 10 year limitation period ‘restarts’. If there is no collection action for a period of 10 years plus one day, no taxpayer (or taxpayer’s legal representative) acknowledging the debt in the past 10 years, and no derivative assessment is issued against a third-party, the CRA will be statute barred by the 10 year limitation period to continue or restart collection action. In all of this the only thing that a tax debtor can do to avoid prolonging the period of collection as much as possible is to avoid acknowledging or paying the debt.
The taxpayer can acknowledge the debt in one of three ways as mentioned in subsection 222(6) of the Income Tax Act. Any of these three actions by the taxpayer will result in a “reset” of the limitations period, and the taxpayer will be back to square one. Thus Canadians with tax debt would be well served to seek professional tax advice from one of our Canadian tax lawyers before communicating directly with Tax Collections Officers. If you owe a debt to the Canada Revenue Agency and you are unsure whether the limitation period has passed, get in touch with our expert Canadian Income Tax Lawyers. Our tax professionals can give you the counsel and representation that you need to be successful in your dispute, negotiation and settlement with the Canada Revenue Agency at each stage of the process, and help to ensure that you are not paying the CRA more than it is legally entitled to.