Taxman to demand more details on offshore holdings

Posted: Updated:

Canada's revenue minister is drawing attention to increased reporting requirements for offshore property and income.

Revenue Minister Gail Shea discussed the measures, which were announced in Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's spring budget, at a press conference in Toronto Tuesday amid continuing stories by CBC News and other international media outlets following a massive leak of information about offshore tax havens.

Tax havens were also targeted in talks by the G8 leaders last week in Northern Ireland.

"We have introduced important new measures to strengthen the Canada Revenue Agency's ability to audit and investigate taxpayers who may be hiding offshore property," said Shea in a statement released Tuesday. "Stronger reporting requirements will provide the CRA with more information to crack down on those who attempt to cheat the system."

Starting with this tax year, Canadians with foreign holdings worth more than $100,000 must provide additional information to the agency at tax time through a form called the foreign income verification statement, or T1135. The form has been revised to require more detailed information, including:

- The name of the specific foreign institution "or other entity" holding foreign funds outside Canada.

- The specific country related to the property.

- The income generated from the foreign property.

The statement said the agency will use the additional information to enforce Canada's tax laws through measures including "education and audit," noting that failure to declare income is illegal and can be punished by "significant taxes, interest and penalties."

The "stronger reporting requirements will provide the CRA with more information to crack down on those who attempt to cheat the system," Shea said in the statement.

The revisions to the foreign property tax form are in addition to other measures in the budget aimed at cracking down on tax avoidance, including a hotline to report international tax cheats and the mandatory reporting of international electronic transfers of $10,000 or more.

Art Cockfield, a tax law professor at Queen's University, said the revised form is "a good idea" and that it will help the government audit certain individuals, but that it will do little to crack down effectively on tax evaders.

"The tax cheaters, if they are committing the criminal offence of tax evasion, they're not going to enter into compliance because of a new form," he said.

Cockfield said that some of the other measures, such as the whistleblower hotline, are important steps in catching people who are trying to avoid paying taxes.

The government has talked tough about its approach to offshore tax evaders, claiming 44 convictions for criminal tax evasion related to offshore assets between 2006 and 2013.

But a recent CBC News analysis found it has been much less successful than it claims. When CBC News looked more closely at 25 cases cited by the government, only eight actually involved someone being found guilty of hiding income or assets in an accepted tax-haven jurisdiction.

Shea was meeting later Tuesday with the Certified General Accountants Association of Canada to discuss the new measures and how to counter tax avoidance.