March 25, 2022
By: Laura Zubot
If you have gone through a tax audit, you know that the Canada Revenue Agency (“CRA”) has broad powers to obtain information from you and about you. However, did you know that you also have a right to get information from the CRA? Getting access to the CRA’s internal records is key to levelling the playing field in a tax dispute.
How do you obtain these records?
The CRA is subject to the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act, which give Canadian citizens, permanent residents, and individuals or corporations present in Canada, the right to access personal information and records held by a government institution. This information can be obtained by filing an Access to Information and Privacy (“ATIP”) request online, by mail, or by e-mail, and paying a nominal $5 application fee.
Why is this important to your tax objection?
The records obtained through an ATIP request include internal memos and reports prepared by CRA officers, which are important for understanding how and why the CRA made its decision on your tax issues.
Although a CRA auditor or appeals officer should have sent you a letter explaining the decision, there is almost always more information behind the scenes. You or your representative can use the records obtained through an ATIP request to point out errors and challenge the CRA’s assumptions during your CRA objection or appeal to Tax Court.
Can you send a letter requesting all of your records?
The ATIP request should be tailored to your specific circumstances. An overbroad request can cause delays and thousands of pages of documents to sort through. An overly narrow request can result in records that are incomplete or not useful.
All appropriate consents and authorizations must also be sent with the ATIP request. For instance, if you are a business owner, you may need to sign a second consent form on behalf of the business in addition to your personal authorization form. Even though you own the business, the government may redact (censor) any information about the business in the records unless you specifically authorize the disclosure. Providing all of the relevant authorizations is important to receiving an as-complete disclosure as possible.
When should you make the request?
It is advisable to make an ATIP request early after receiving a CRA decision that you intend to dispute, as it can take months or sometimes over a year to receive the records, depending on the volume of documents, the scope of the request, and the government backlog. If new records become relevant after getting the first set of records – for example, if you receive a second CRA decision – a second ATIP request can be filed, requesting only those new records.