Canadians have squirreled away potentially hundreds of billions of dollars in offshore tax havens, avoiding up to $3 billion in taxes annually, according to new numbers from Canada Revenue Agency.
The agency estimates Canadian had between $75.9 billion and $240.5 billion in tax havens in 2013. That number is only for individual taxpayers, and doesn't include corporations' offshore holdings.
CRA is scheduled to report next year on the amount of money corporations have placed in offshore tax havens. But according to a 2016 study by Canadians for Tax Fairness, Canadian businesses had placed some $270 billion out of the tax collector's reach.
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CRA estimates the money individuals placed in tax havens cost the government $800 million to $3 billion in lost tax revenue in 2014.
Add to that the losses from domestic unpaid income taxes and unpaid GST (which CRA estimated in earlier reports), and Canada's "tax gap" for individuals — the amount the government failed to collect — would be up to $14.6 billion in 2014, CRA data shows.
The recent reports on Canada's "tax gap" mark the first time CRA has attempted to estimate what it loses from unpaid taxes.
For years the agency resisted efforts to crunch these numbers. But in the spring of 2016, with a new Liberal government in Ottawa and renewed attention on offshore tax havens in the wake of the Panama Papers release, CRA announced it would begin research into the issue.
Earlier on HuffPost Canada:
"This latest study of the tax gap is evidence of our government's ongoing commitment to better target international tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance," Revenue Minister Diane Lebouthillier said in a statement Thursday.
The fight for the tax gap was championed for years by Sen. Percy Downe of Prince Edward Island, a Liberal. Downe more or less declared victory earlier this year when CRA agreed to hand over data to the Parliamentary Budget Officer so the budget watchdog can make its own estimates of the tax gap.
"As delighted as I am with this outcome, I am equally disappointed that it took so long and only happened because the (Parliamentary Budget Officer) threatened to take CRA to court," Downe said in a statement in May.
"It is hard to believe that the Canada Revenue Agency was allowed to stonewall the PBO for so many years, under two different federal governments. Now that the Agency has handed over the information, one has to look back and wonder why it took six years to accomplish."
More convictions, tougher sentences
CRA says it has been ramping up its enforcement of tax laws, noting the government recently gave its budget a $1-billion boost to fight tax evasion.
It says it identified 155 audits resulting from the Panama Papers leak of offshore tax haven data, "and several criminal investigations are ongoing as of March 31, 2018."
The agency boasts its conviction rate for tax evasion has improved, to 95 per cent in 2017-2018 from 89 per cent the year before, and prison sentences are getting longer.
The final piece of the tax-gap puzzle will fall into place next year, when CRA reports on the numbers for corporations.
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