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In June of 2013, the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights was amended to ensure taxpayers could safely voice their dissatisfaction with the way they are treated by the Canada Revenue Agency.

Apparently taxpayers had told the then Ombusdman Paul Dubé that they were afraid to file a service complaint against a CRA agent for fear of reprisal. See this excerpt from the CRA website:

“Although there is no evidence that Canadians have been subject to reprisal by the CRA, in his work across the country, the Taxpayers’ Ombudsman heard that taxpayers would sometimes hesitate to lodge a complaint for fear of being treated differently afterward. To address this unwarranted fear and encourage Canadians to speak up if they have a disagreement with the CRA, the Ombudsman recommended that a new right be added to ensure Canadians are confident they will be treated fairly.”

Thus Mr. Dubé, in his role as champion of the taxpayer, escalated the matter to the then Minster of National Revenue, the Right Honourable Gail Shea, who agreed to the addition of a new article to the ever-growing list enshrined in the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.

Article 16 was announced with great fanfare, apparently, from the Scarborough Tax Services Office just east of Toronto on June 26, 2013.

The new article reads as follows:

16. You have the right to lodge a service complaint and request a formal review without fear of reprisal.

Click here for the full Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights

It’s a good start. But before anyone gets too excited, let’s put it in perspective:

1. The Taxpayer Bill of Rights is not law. Many of its ‘rights’ are legislated via the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and other legislation. The Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights is really a service manifesto – a brilliant piece of consumer marketing paid for by you with your tax dollars. You also pay the Taxpayer’s Ombudman’s salary… so it’s good of him or her to go to bat for you, even if there is no force of law behind him or her. (Our current Taxpayer’s Ombudsman is Sherra Profit. You can have fun with the obvious pun in her name.)

2. Accessing the benefit of the new Article 16 is as bureaucratic as you would expect it to be. If you wish to make a Service Complaint (without fear of reprisal, of course) about a CRA agent and the way you were (mis)treated, you need to fill out and file CRA form RC 193.

Tax Reprisal / Taxpayers Bill of Rights

You send your form to the special and independent Service Complaints Intake Centre in Shawnigan – presumably a special department set up within CRA to review complaints. This is the same intake centre to which you sent your service complaint pre-article 16. So we’re not sure how anything has changed. Further, these complaints have typically been responded to by the local Tax Services Office in which the offending CRA Agent works. We will have to wait to see if Article 16 results in responses from totally independent complaints reviewers.

3. The real effect of Article 16 kicks in if and when you experience reprisal from your Service complaint. In this event, you get to fill in Form 193 again. But this time you complete Section 3 – and detail the reprisals you experienced. Presuming, of course, that you’re still standing, financially, and emotionally, and have the resilience to enter the fray again. This time, you send your Form 193 to (drum roll please……):
The Service Complaints Intake Centre in Shawinigan. Again.

4. Notwithstanding the foregoing reassurances and opportunities to complain without fear as represented by brand new article 16, the CRA does advise:

“You should not fear reprisal. We [the CRA] are required to apply the law and
relevant CRA guidelines and policies, which may include the charging of
penalties, or requiring the payment of your debt. When CRA employees act inaccordance with the law, these do not constitute acts of reprisal.”

We especially like the last part. LOL.

5. Hmmm… So what exactly constitutes a reprisal? And what protection is really offered by Article 16?

6. A word to the wise: If you read Ellen Roseman, in the Toronto Star, be not mislead by her take on the topic. You do not report your reprisal complaint to the Ombudsman. He’s just the front man taking credit for this bold step forward in Taxpayer empowerment. You have to go to the, as per Ms Roseman, “separate office within the CRA” to seek redress. Namely that place in Shawinigan referenced in points 2 and 3.

7. If your exercise your rights under Article 16, don’t expect a fast resolution. You will likely get a prompt response advising your complaint has been received. But it may take months for your matter to journey through the bureaucratic circles of the tax Inferno. Meanwhile the CRA will continue with whatever actions prompted yoru complaint in the first place.

Feel empowered? Ready to take on the CRA without fear of reprisal? Go for it! Form 193 (above) is all you need.

Tell us what you think about this article, or share your tales of CRA misconduct.