Can I Get GST/HST Back on Goods I Bought in Canada and Exported?

This is a question we get asked regularly.  It is not always an easy question to answer. 

Subsection 252 (1) of the Excise Tax Act (the "GST/HST Legislation") provides that if a non-resident is the recipient of a supply of tangible personal property (i.e., goods) acquired by the person for use primarily outside Canada, the person may receive a rebate of the GST/HST if the person exports the goods within 60 days.  There are a number of caveats to this general rule:

1) the non-resident person must have evidence that they exported the good within 60 days of acquiring the good;

2) the non-resident person must have evidence that they were the recipient of the good (e.g., someone else did not buy it);

3) the non-resident person must have evidence of the amount of GST/HST paid;

4) the consideration payable for the supplies exceeds $50;

5) the non-resident person must file the correct refund application within 1 year of exporting the good;

6) the person claiming the rebate is a non-resident at the time the rebate is claimed;

6) the good must not have been consumed is Canada (e.g., rebates are not available for food, drinks, concert tickets, etc.); and

7) the good is not an excisable goods, gasoline, diesel fuel or other motive fuel (other than certain exceptions).

There are special rules that allow for the assignment of a rebate to the supplier of the goods.  We won't confuse things by getting into this scenario.


Canada Revenue Agency Issues Draft Policy On HST Self-Assessment & Seeks Comments

It is unusual for the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) to seek public comments on a difficult harmonized sales tax ("HST") topic.  Take advantage of the opportunity to shape their future policy.

On September 9, 2011, the CRA released DRAFT GST/HST Notice 266 "Harmonized Sale Tax - Self-assessment of the provincial part of HST in respect of property and services brought into a participating province".  The deadline for filing comments is October 31, 2011.  This document is 77 pages in length, so it will take time to review and find what will not work in practice.

Financial services providers, financial institutions, multi-jurisdictional charities & non-profit organizations, universities & colleges with campuses in more than one province, long term care home providers operating in more than one province, residential real estate management companies operating in more than one province, doctors and medical professionals or management companies operating in more than one province and other exempt businesses would be affected by this draft policy.  Non-resident companies also should be mindful of the draft policy if they are active in Canada and make exempt supplies.

In addition, even though the HST provinces should realize that they import supplies, they may not think of the HST consequences.  Ontario, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland/Labrador and British Columbia (until they stop being a participating province) should also consider how the policy will affect them.

While the policy is in draft, it will be applied going back to July 1, 2010.  Also, while it is draft now, it will be finalized in the future.  The CRA auditors will consider this policy to be an assessment road map.  Please take the time to make sure it reflects a workable solution.

While it is self-serving for me to say this: Ask a sales tax lawyer for help in reviewing the draft policy and writing your comments.  This is your chance to improve your future and you can save money in the long run if you fix the problems before the policy is engraved in stone.

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Non-Residents Can Get Their Border GST/HST Back If They Plan Ahead

I am asked regularly whether a non-resident person who does not wish to register for GST/HST purposes can get an input tax credit for the goods and services tax ("GST") and harmonized sales tax ("HST") (if charged and) paid at the border.  The answer is "no", the non-resident cannot claim an input tax credit if they do not get into the GST/HST system, post security and file GST/HST returns.

However, other options may be available depending on the facts (which can be arranged to permit recovery).  These options are available in a business transaction and are not available to a non-resident bringing goods to Canada for their own use (e.g. at a cottage in Muskoka). The two main options are:

1) use of a drop shipment certificate; and

2) structuring the importation in a way to permit another person to recover the money.

These options are not available in every situation.  They are complicated to describe and implement.  Often the assistance of a sales tax lawyer or accountant or consultant is requirement to make sure the transactions are structured perfectly.  Since the purpose of the structuring is to get money back from the Canadian government or accomplish tax relief, the Canada Revenue Agency may inquire about the facts to see if all "t"s are crossed and "i"s dotted.

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What Will Happen If The "Yes" Vote Wins In British Columbia?

The most important document to study will be the "hard-to-read" Comprehensive Integrated Tax Coordination Agreement between British Columbia and the Government of Canada signed in November 2009 (called the CITCA by tax geeks).  The second most important document to read is the amendment letter to the CITCA signed in March 2010.  A review of the original Memorandum of Understanding may also be helpful. There will be other relevant documents that will be made public voluntarily and through access to information requests to the Government of Canada and the Government of British Columbia.  These documents will need to be reviewed carefully to determine the best plan to move forward.

What exactly will happen will happen in response to a "Yes" vote is yet to be determined.  What we know is that many will not like the plan.  The elimination of the Harmonized Sales Tax ("HST") in British Columbia will not happened immediately on August 26, 2011 if the "Yes" (anti-HST) vote is the successful side.  People celebrating at bars and restaurants will see HST on their bills after the announcement.

Businesses will need time to adjust.  This would be fair to the businesses who are, in reality, the tax collectors from the public.  The businesses will need to know what to do and the mechanisms to collect another tax (even if it is the British Columbia social services tax) will have to be put in place.  Businesses throughout Canada and not just British Columbia will need to adjust their record-keeping systems.  As with HST implementation, a change will involve a lot more work than just changing a tax rate in the computer.

Businesses inside and outside British Columbia will also need to register to collect the replacement tax.  The government will need to launch a new education campaign to communicate the obligations on businesses.  Also with the "To Do List', the government will need its own "To Do List", which will include setting a time line, passing legislation, education of the public (and duck as the tomatoes are thrown), hire people in the Consumer Taxation Branch, train the new employees, prepare policies and bulletins, talk with the Federal Government about repayment, enforcement and other process matters, etc.

If the "Yes" vote wins, GST registrants in British Columbia will still be required to charge, collect and remit HST when they sell to an HST province.  They will still be obligated under the Excise Tax Act (Canada) and regulations thereto to file a GST/HST returns in the future.  The HST Place of Supply Rules will still apply to certain transactions.  So, HST will not be elimniated fully under any change plan.

The rules relating to claiming refunds, rebates and credits under the HST tax system will need to be clarified for B.C. businesses.  There is a possibility that there may be a deadline set for amounts a business or consumer is entitled to receive from the Government of Canada.

If the HST is going to be eliminated, businesses who are registered for GST/HST purposes and entitled to claim input tax credits will take the opportunity to purchase goods and services before the change.  Those businesses that will have to pay unrecoverable provincial sales tax after the change may decide to undertake the expenditures at a time when they can recover HST by way of an input tax credit.  Businesses will take prudent steps to save money while the change occurs. 

Consumers, on the other hand, may delay purchases until after the change occurs when they are purchasing an exempt good, real property, intangible property or services that are not subject to provincial sales tax.  This will most negatively affect the real estate market and the service sector.  There will be transition rules for the change that will need to be developed and communicated.

Consumers outside the province of British Columbia may delay purchases of goods from British Columbia until after the change (or at least after the date of the announcement of the plan for the replacement tax).  The place of supply rules may change and give rise to opportunities to save sales tax.

In the meantime, the Government of British Columbia will undoubtedly talk about repayment of the monies received from the Government of Canada to implement the HST.  There will be talk of new taxes that were not in place in British Columbia before July 1, 2010.  As sure as night follows day, if the "yes" vote is the majority, the blame game will start.

We will continue to watch and report on this developing story - if it develops into a story.  Nothing much will happen if the "No" vote is the majority.

Would You Like To Get On The HST Bandwidth Wagon?

The Canada Revenue Agency ("CRA") is looking at the characterization of telecommunication services provided by non-traditional means (such as Voice over Internet Protocol).  Which HST place of supply rule applies depends on the characterization.  What is important to know if that if the CRA does not have all the answers yet (which, it does not), you may not be charging HST properly if you do not ask them.

The CRA has already received a few advance ruling requests.  The CRA has indicated that they are looking at 4 different requests that deal with VoIP services:

  • supplies of VoIP services by a non-resident supplier where the communications are initiated outside Canada, but received in Canada;
  • supplies of VoIP service calling plans for a flat fee;
  • supplies of VoIP services provided where the communication are initiated in Canada, but received outside Canada; and
  • supplies of VoIP services provided by a non-resident where the communications are initiated and received outside Canada, but routed through a server located in Canada.

If you have similar questions, it may be wise to request an advance GST/HST ruling from the CRA.  It may take time (possibly years) before the CRA issues a policy statement based on the rulings it provides.  It also may take months or years for the CRA to publish the rulings it gives to those who have asked.  If you would like to receive your own binding ruling (that may be handed to a CRA auditor when they visit a supplier or a recipient of VoIP services), you will need to submit your own ruling request.

The great benefit of GST/HST ruling requests is that it demonstrates due diligence in the event that the CRA disagrees with you in the end.  Acts that count as "due diligence" can relive a director from a director's liability claim.

The HST Place of Supply Rules for Conferences May Not Apply to Sponsorships

Many associations hold their conferences or meetings in Canada and/or HST provinces (Ontario, British Columbia, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland/Labrador).  For example, the American Bar Association recently hosted their annual meeting in Toronto, Ontario.  I was asked whether a sponsorship by a U.S.-based law firm would be subject to harmonized sales tax ("HST").

The answer is "It all depends".  There are two HST place of supply rules that need to be considered.  In section 28 of Part I of the New Harmonized Value-Added Tax System Regulations, there is a specific rule for "location specific events" (like a conference).  For this rule to apply, there must be a direct connection between the service being performed (e.g. the service of giving recognition) by the supplier and the event (e.g., the conference).

Depending on what exact services are being provided in return for the sponsorship, the Canada Revenue Agency may not consider the connection to be direct.  An example of an indirect service is advertising services (such as including the firm's name in promotional materials).  If this is the case, the general place of supply rule would apply and not the specific rule relating to location specific events.  The general place of supply rules for services is found in section 13 of Part I of the New Harmonized Value-Added Tax System Regulations.

In the example given, the U.S. law firm (if it does not have any offices in Canada) would not receive a service in an HST province.  As a result, HST would not apply to the consideration paid for the sponsorship. 

If the U.S. law firm had offices in the united States and an office in Canada, an analysis of the location "most closely connected with the supply" would be required.

If the U.S. law firm received admission tickets to the event as part of the sponsorship package, it may be that the CRA would consider that the supplier provided a multiple supply and a portion of the consideration paid would be subject to HST.

For more information, please contact Cyndee Todgham Cherniak, a sales tax lawyer in Ontario at 416-760-8999.

Amounts Paid To Canada Border Services Agency As Ascertained Forfeiture May Include GST

In the recent case of 208539 Alberta Ltd. v. The Queen, Justice D'Arcy of the Tax Court of Canada held that an importer of record may be entitled to claim an input tax credit (ITC) for GST imposed as a result of an ascertained forfeiture.  An ascertained forfeiture occurs when the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) issues a penalty with respect to imported goods after importation.  The CBSA is no longer in a position to seize the goods and charge a penalty to release the goods.  As a result, the CBSA sends the importer of record an assessment of a penalty.

In some cases, the ascertained forfeiture penalty may only include customs duties (or a multiple of the customs duties that would have been payable).  In these cases, the importer of record would not be entitled to claim an input tax credit.

In other cases, the ascertained forfeiture penalty states that an amount is being charged as GST that should have been paid with respect to the importation.  This was the situation in the case at hand.

Judge D'Arcy held that the importer of record was entitled to claim the ITC for the amount that was GST, but not the amount that was penalty or customs duties.

Another interesting aspect of the decision is the discussion on whether the documentary requirements for the ITC had been satisfied.  The CRA was arguing that the documentary requirements in subsection 169(4) of the Excise Tax Act  and Input Tax Credit Information (GST/HST) Regulations was not satisfied.  Judge D'Arcy was correct in holding:

The Appellant satisfied the paragraph 169(4)(a) documentary requirements once it provided the CRA with sufficient information to enable the amount of the input tax credit to be determined. As I noted previously, the First Customs Letter, the Second Customs Letter and Exhibit A2 together evidence the amount of Division III tax that Canada Customs collected from the Appellant ($17,039.93) and the fact that the Division III tax was paid by the Appellant in respect of the imported goods.

I would expect that there are a number of importers of record who are engaged in commercial activities who have not claimed their ITCs paid in respect of ascertained forfeitures and detentions penalties.  It will be important to ensure the correct person claims the ITC.  Time limits for claiming the ITC will also be a critical issue.  All that being said, there may be found money - if you have received a notice of ascertained forfeiture or retrieved goods from CBSA detention, it is time to review the documentation.

The Canada Revenue Agency Has Released A New Guide For Non-Residents Doing Business In Canada

Non-residents who are doing business in Canada and would like to comply with Canada's Goods and services tax (GST) and harmonized sales (HST) tax laws should review this new gide published by the Canada Revenue Ageny on June 15, 2011. "Doing Business in Canada - GST/HST Information for Non-Residents" is an important document to read.  It is over 38 pages on information that may or may not answer the questions that the non--resident may have about their GTS/HST obligations.

Whether or not a non-resident is actually doing business in Canada is a factual test.  There is no definition of "carrying on business in Canada" in the GST/HST laws.  Pages 7-8 of the CRA's document address the basics and a Canadian sales tax lawyer can help apply the CRA's test in a particular case.

The CRA document addresses many issues, including:

1. Should a non-resident register for GST/HST purposes?

2. How is GST/HST calculated?

3. What are the GTS/HST return filing requirements?

4. What are the place of supply rules for charging HST?

5. How is GST/HST applied on imported goods?

6. How is GST/HST applied on imported services and intangible property?

7. How is GST/HST applied on exported goods, services and intangible property?

8. What are drop shipments and how do the drop shipment rules work?

9. How do non-residents recover GTS/HST by way of a rebate?

Categories of Ontario Retail Sales Tax Assessments

There are good assessments (being nil assessments) and bad assessments (you own money to the Ministry).  This blog post is going to list the most common types of Ontario retail sales tax (ORST) assessments.  It is not a complete list of every type, but I will hit the highlights:

1. Assessment of a vendor who has collected ORST and failed to remit the ORST;

2. Assessment of a vendor a penalty for failure to collect ORST from a purchaser as required (including innocent mistakes);

3. Assessment of a purchaser who did not pay ORST to a vendor as required (even when the vendor did not ask for the ORST or honestly thought the sale was exempt);

4. Assessment of a director for the ORST liability of the corporation;

5. Assessment of a person who imports taxable goods into Ontario;

6. Assessment of a person who hires a non-resident contractor (who has not coordinated with Ontario) who builds real property in Ontario and imports building materials; 

7. Assessment of a person who over claimed a rebate or refund;

8. Assessment of a buyer of a business to which the bulk sales tax applies in circumstances where the vendor owes Ontario ORST on past activities and the buyer did not get a clearance certificate; and

9. Assessment of an assignee, liquidator, administrator, receiver, receiver-manager, secured or unsecured creditor, agent of the creditor, trustee or other like persons who distribute property or proceeds from the sale without obtaining a clearance certificate from the province and there are outstanding ORST liabilities.

Another categorization of assessments that you should be aware of are:

A) interim assessment - meaning that the auditor has guessed the amount and not finished his/her work before issuing an assessment;

B) audit summary: this is not an assessment; 

C) final assessment: this is an assessment if it is in the form of a notice of assessment; and

D) revised assessment: if an auditor issues an assessment and subsequently revises the assessment, the new assessment generally replaces the previous assessment (if it relates to the same transactions) and restarts the limitation period for filing a notice of objection.

Non-Residents ask "How Do I Get the GST/HST Back on Goods Purchased in Canada?"

Non-residents businesses may be entitled to recover GST/HST paid on goods delivered in Canada if the goods are exported within 60 days and if they file the paperwork for a refund/rebate. Generally speaking, non-resident consumers are not able to recover GST/HST paid on goods purchased in Canada. Canada does not have a VAT rebate for visitors who purchase goods.

Non-resident businesses who purchase goods in Canada and arrange for delivery in Canada would complete the general refund application form GST189 to claim a refund.  The rebate ismailed to the Canada Revenue Agency and not handed to the supplier for immediate benefit.

If the non-resident business or consumer allowed the supplier to arrange for shipping of the goods so that the delivery of the goods occurs outside Canada, GST/HST would not be charged.  If goods are delivered in Canada, the supplier must charge the GST/HST because the supplier can no longer control whether the goods actually leave Canada.  I had a case once where the CRA officer said to me 'How do I know that your client did not stop while driving to the United States at a few spots to resell the goods within Canada?'  The reality was, it would be difficult to prove the officer was wrong.

So here are a few examples:

If a non-resident individual comes to Canada and buys clothes and takes delivery at the store, he/she would pay GST/HST to the store and would not recover the GST/HST by way of a rebate.  If that same individual arranges for the store to ship the goods outside Canada, then GST/HST would not be payable.

If a non-resident business purchases clothes from a Canadian manufacturer to be delivered in Canada, exports the goods so that they can be resold outside Canada, the business would pay GST/HST to the Canadian manufacturer and file a rebate claim so long as the goods were exported within 60 days. If the non-resident business purchases clothes from a Canadian manufacturer to be delivered outside Canada (the manufacturer arranges the shipping), the non-resident should not pay GST/HST to the Canadian manufacturer as the transaction is zero-rated.  The non-resident saves the cash flow costs by paying for the manufacturer to ship the goods.

If a non-resident person purchases a classic car at an auction in Canada for the purposes of reselling the car at a later point in time (an adventure or concern in the nature of trade), he/she may claim a refund/rebate if the car is delivered in Canada and GST/HST is paid to the vendor of the car.  If the non-resident purchases classic car to be delivered outside Canada (the supplier arranges the shipping), the non-resident should not pay GST/HST to the Canadian supplier as the transaction is zero-rated. 

If a non-resident takes possession of goods in Canada and plans to export goods and file for a rebate, they must prove that they exported with goods within 60 days.  That means they need paperwork that has been stamped by government authorities relating to the export.  It used to be that the non-resident would present themselves and the goods to the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) at the time of export and complete paperwork.  The CBSA says to non-residents that they do not have forms to complete relating to exports (even though there is the E15 Certificate of Destruction/Exportation).  I recommend that the non-resident prepares paperwork and ask the CBSA to stamp the paperwork to acknowledge the request (at least). More importantly, the non-resident should complete the entry paperwork when returning to their home country.  In the United States, the person would complete a form 7901.  This paperwork is good evidence of an import into another country, which usually is accepted as evidence of export from Canada. 

It may take weeks or months to receive the refund/rebate cheque in the mail.  There is an interesting case of a non-resident purchasing a plane and hitting a bird on take-off and having to complete repairs before export.  It took longer than 60 days to repair the plane, the 60 day deadline was missed and the rebate claim was denied by the Canada Revenue Agency and the Tax Court of Canada.

Employment Services vs Independent Contractor Services

The services of an employee (a real employee) are not subject to goods and services tax ("GST") or harmonized sales tax ("HST").  The services of an independent contractor are subject to GST/HST if that person is not a small supplier.  A small supplier is a person who makes less than $30,000 per year - they do not need to register for GST/HST purposes and are not required to charge, collect and remit GST/HST.

Persons who are independent contractors and who make supplies that exceed $30,000 per year must register for GST/HST purposes and charge, collect and remit GST/HST.  This would include service providers from outside Canada who come to Canada to perform services. 

Persons who hire independent contractors must pay the GST/HST on the services.  If the person is engaged in exempt activities, they may not be able to recover the GST/HST paid to the independent contractor.  As a result, the GST/HST can represent an increase in the cost of the services.  If the person is engaged in commercial activities, the person may be assessed for failure to pay GST/HST if the independent contractor does not charge GST/HST when required. As a result, the business must be a watchdog in this area.

With the implementation of HST, the distinction between employees and independent contractors has become more important.  If a business wants a person to be an employee, they need to document the employment arrangement and make all necessary source deductions.  If a business wants a person to be an independent contractor, they should review income tax case law to ensure that the person meets the factual requirements associated with an independent service provider.  For example, an independent contractor uses his own tools to perform his/her trade. 

This area is more complicated than it seems.  Depending on the amounts at issue, it may be worth taking some time to structure the arrangements more carefully and clearly.

Withholding Tax Problems for Non-Residents Can Arise When Register for GST/HST and Tick Box "Carrying on Business in Canada"

I have seen an increase in Regulation 105 withholding tax audits recently and non-residents registered for GST/HST are affected.  The withholding tax audits are usually audits of Canadian companies who make payments to non-resident suppliers (often from the United States).  The cases I have seen recently involve a non-resident who provides services to the Canadian company at the a Canadian location.  Often, the contract calls for the Canadian company to reimburse the non-resident supplier for expenses incurred during the delivery of the services (e.g., the travel costs).  More recently, the Canadian business asks the non-resident to register for GST/HST purposes so that the non-resident can remove imbedded GST/HST in the agreed disbursements. With the implementation of HST, the disbursement costs have increased.  When the non-resident voluntarily registered for GST/HST, they checked the box on the registration form that they are carrying on business in Canada.

In many cases, when a Canadian business pays an amount to a non-resident business, the Canadian business must withhold a percentage specified in an tax treaty (the withholding tax) and remit that amount to the Canada Revenue Agency.  For example, if a U.S. company provides services to a Canadian company, the withholding tax rate would be 15%.  The Canadian business provides the non-resident with the requisite forms and the non-resident takes steps to get the money back from the Canadian Government. It is beyond the scope of this blog posting to cover all the withholding tax rates of Canada and all the exceptions and the steps to pay and recover withholding tax.  What is clear is that many Canadian companies do not withhold and get audited and assessed.

My reason for posting this blog article is to communicate to non-residents that the administrative task of completing a GST/HST registration form establishes a paper trail for non-residents and a simple answer relating to one Canadian tax may result in non-so-simple issues regarding another Canadian tax.  Please ask questions of an experienced Canadian tax lawyer.

Would you like to register for GST/HST purposes?

If you would like to register for GST/HST purposes and do not have the forms, maybe I can help point you in the right direction:

1) Fill out the Business Consent Form (RC 59) if you are appointing someone to act on your behalf (like me)

2) Fill out the Request for a Business Number (RC1) if you would like more than just the GST/HST account number (e.g. income tax, payroll or import/export)


Fill out the Business Number (BN) - GST/HST Account Information if you have a business number (often provided automatically with a Canadian or provincial incorporation) and only need to set up a GST/HST account.

3) If you are a non-resident, you may need to post security.  More information about posting security is found in GST Memorandum Series 2-6 "Security Requirements for Non-Residents".

I should note that completing these documents is not a simple task and the answers provided to the questions may have serious consequences to you.

Are You Doing Business In Canada or Doing Business With Canadians?

The most frequent question that I ask U.S. businesses is "Are you doing business in Canada or doing business with Canadians?"  It is an important GST/HST question.  If a business is merely doing business with Canadians, it is not required to register for GST/HST purposes.  If a non-resident business (also applies to resident businesses) are doing business in Canada, they may be making taxable supplies in Canada and may be required to register for GST/HST purposes.

The phrase "doing business in Canada" is a term of tax art.  The phrase "doing business in Canada"  is not defined in the Excise Tax Act (Canada). The phrase has been considered in many income tax and sales tax cases.  As a result, a determination is made on a case-by-case basis.  The Canada Revenue Agency has issued administrative statements to inform suppliers on factors they consider in making a determination.  In many cases, it is recommended that a non-resident supplier apply for an advance GST/HST ruling (usually in cases where they want a decision that they are not doing business in Canada).

I have been asked to look at this issue more than any other GST/HST issue.  I could give many examples that cross many forms of businesses.  I will give two of my more recent examples.

Example #1: A U.S. company provides specialized services to clients.  They design and develop custom computer programs and implement the program after completion.  Employees of the U.S. company spends months (sometimes over a few years) at the clients' premises.  In recent years, the U.S. company was retained by a few Canadian companies for big and small projects. The U.S. company has established a Canadian bank account in which it was paid for its services.

This company was doing business in Canada and needed to register for GST/HST purposes.  It did not matter that the U.S. company did not have its own offices in Canada and only worked at the premises of its clients.  Given the amount of time that the U.S. company spent in Canada performing services on Canadian soil, it was easy to determine that the company was carrying on business in Canada.

Example #2: A U.S. company with a business location in the United States very near the Canada/U.S.border sold goods.  While Canadians could cross the Canada-U.S. border, buy goods, and be responsible for taking the goods across the border, This was not what usually happened.  The U.S. company regularly delivered the goods f.o.b. Canadian customer's front door.

If the U.S. company delivered the goods infrequently f.o.b Canada, it may have been considered to be doing business with Canadians.  If the U.S. company delivered the goods f.o.b U.S. business and the customer arranged for shipment across the border, the U.S. company may have been considered to be doing business with Canadians.  However, the reality was very different. Based on the actual activities of the U.S. business, they would likely be considered to be carrying on business in Canada.

The facts are always very important.  Even if you have asked this question before and are attempting to NOT carry on business in Canada, it is important that non-residents of Canada ask what is the practical reality.  Based on my experience, non-resident businesses often get into difficulty because employees change the game plan without knowing why things are being done a certain way.

"Are you carrying on business in Canada" is an important question to ask. 

The ABCs of Harmonized Sales Tax

Harmonized sales tax ("HST") is here to stay in Ontario for 5 years due to the arrangement between Premier McGuinty and the Government of Canada.  The provincial portion of the rate (currently 8% and called PVAT to those in the know) may be altered on or after July 1, 2012.

Now for something serious and not so serious at times - the ABCs of HST:

A is for Almost Everything - HST covers almost everything;

B is for Bookkeeping - Registrants need to keep detailed records and maintain books are records that can be audited by the Canada Revenue Agency Auditors;

C is for Canada Revenue Agency - The CRA enforces the HST (both the GST and PVAT portions);

D is for Documentary Requirements - A top 10 audit issue is that registrations do not maintain adequate information to support input tax credit and refund claims;

E is for Exemptions - Exempt means that HST/GST is not charged, but the supplier is not entitled to claim input tax credits - so GST/HST is passed on in the price of the property/services;

F is for Filings - Registrants must file their GST/HST returns on time and large businesses must recapture ITCs on time and builders must report certain information in their filings or face costly penalties;

G is for Government Contracts - Suppliers to the Ontario, British Columbia and Nova Scotia Governments must charge GST/HST (previously Ontario and BC did not pay GST or PST);

H is for HST - should have expected this one - or I could have written "Hated Sales Tax";

I is for Input Tax Credits - ITCs are good for businesses engaged in commercial activities who get to recover GST/HST on business inputs (good until they get audited and mistakes are found);

J is for Judge - If you disagree with the CRA about an assessment, file a notice of objection and notice of appeal and take the dispute to a Tax Court of Canada judge;

K is for Knowledgeable - While it is self-serving, you need to talk to a knowledgeable practitioner as the HST rules are complicated;

L is for Legislation - the Excise Tax Act needs to be updated - we have not had a good review since 1997;

M is for MUSH Sector - The MUSH (Municipalities, Universities, Schools, Hospitals) sector have a rebate scheme and difficult rules;

N is for Non-Residents - Businesses outside Ontario (e.g., in other Canadian provinces, the United States and overseas) may be required to charge, collect and remit HST and do not know or understand it;

O is for Ontario Retail Sales Tax - HST replaces ORST, but ORST is still applicable on used car sales and certain insurance premiums;

P is for Place of Supply Rules - Whether you charge HST depends in part on the application of the place of supply rules, which determine if the supply takes place in an HST province and which HST province;

Q is for Quick Method - really a misnomer because it is not quick and some people using it will have to apply special transition rules;

R is for Recaptured ITCS - Large businesses (those that make over $10 million is sales per annual alone or with affiliated entities) must pay back certain ITCs claimed relating to PVAT and must report on monthly GST/HST return;

S is for Small Suppliers - Small supplier do not have to register for GST/HST purposes;

T is for  Technology - Technology helps capture and report GST/HST information - this cannot be done manually;

U is for Unhappy Consumers - Consumers are paying more on electricity, home heating, bikes, services, etc because of HST;

V is for Voluntary Disclosures - If you make a mistake and have not been contacted by a CRA auditor, you may consider making a non-names voluntary disclosure via a practitioner so save paying a penalty;

W is for web-site - go to for information on HST or;

X is for Xerox - you need to keep good records as evidence to show auditors - you need to invest in a good scanner or photocopier;

Y is for Yikes - This is what a person says when they hear they will be audited for HST (probably say something else - but this is a clean web-site); and

Z is for Zero-rated - If property or services are zero-rated, you pay GST/HST at a rate of 0% and the supplier gets an input tax credit (therefore, health care and educational services should be zero-rated instead of exempt).

Bequested Goods Are Not Subject to HST on Importation

I was sent a question as to whether harmonized sales tax (HST) will be imposed on imported goods that have been the subject of a bequest to the importer.  I wanted to answer this question since my own Grandmother passed away this year --- so this one is for Alice (and the writer of the question).

Goods that are classified under H.S. tariff item 98.06 may be imported as a non-taxable importation (in other words, no HST on importation).  H.S. tariff item applies to:

(a) Personal and household effects of a resident of Canada who has died (on the condition that such goods were owned, possessed and used abroad by that resident);

(b) Personal and household effects received by a resident of Canada as a result of the death or in anticipation of death of a person who is not a resident of Canada (on condition that such goods were owned, possessed and used abroad by that non-resident), or

(c) ll the foregoing when bequeathed to a resident of Canada.

It will be important to communicate effectively on the import documentation that the goods are the subject of a bequest (or belonged to a resident of Canada who passed away while outside Canada).  Please use H.S. tariff code number 98.06 on the Customs invoice. It will be helpful to name the deceased person and/or the estate of the deceased person.  If the goods are the subject of a bequest, be prepare to provide to a Canada Border Services Agency officer a copy of the Will or the Receipt and Release that identifies the goods that are the subject of a bequest. 

If the goods belonged to a Canadian resident who passed away abroad, the goods should be listed by the coroner or an official in the foreign jurisdiction as belongings of the deceased person.  There will be many situations where such documentation is not possible.  In such cases, a reasonable attempt should be made to corroborate that the criteria of the H.S tariff code have been satisfied.

Please remember that this H.S. tariff code has been misused by some and that is why your difficult time is going to be the subject of an inquiry by CBSA officers. 

Alert to Non-Residents - It is a Good Time to Take a Closer Look at Canadian Business Activities

I have helped many non-residents of Canada register for goods and services tax (GST) purposes over the years. These GST registered non-residents must apply the HST place of supply rules to their transactions involving Canadian buyers/clients.

In addition, many of these non-resident clients have filed extra-provincial registrations to carry on business in a Canadian province so that they could open a bank account and pay the Receiver General any GST collected. 

These non-resident entities have made two representations to the Government of Canada and/or a provincial government that they are 'carrying on business" in Canada.  Many have done so without considering income tax and/or withholding tax consequences.

The implementation of HST should trigger a closer look at a non-resident's Canadian business activities.  So far, I am close to 100% in finding mistakes that could be or are already very costly.

File Opening Forms May Provide Useful Information to Auditors

I am a big fan of anticipating a problem during a Canada Revenue Agency audit and solving the problem before it happens.  File opening forms may provide useful information to a CRA auditor.  The first thing they do is they inform the CRA auditor that you are diligent.  You took your GST/HST compliance responsibilities seriously.  You tried to ask the right questions in order to bill correctly.

A file opening form can be useful in recording the information that will allow you to determine whether the harmonized sales tax (HST) place of supply rules apply and at what rate you should be charging HST.

There isn't a single form that will work for all businesses - in other words, you would be wise to work with an HST lawyer or expert to develop the form and learn how to analyze the information on the form in a diligent manner.  If you have a billing policy, then you are more likely to get the answer right.

Some of the information that may be included on a file opening form (and I want to make it clear that this is not an all inclusive list) is:

  1. Date
  2. The correct legal name of the client/customer
  3. If the client is incorporated, the jurisdiction of the corporation and the incorporation number
  4. If the client is a partnership, the jurisdiction of the partnership and the partnership registration number
  5. The head office address or the address at which the individuals are located who provide instructions to you
  6. Name of the prime contact who will be giving instructions
  7. The normal location of that person
  8. Telephone number of the prime contact
  9. Fax number of the prime contact
  10. Email address of the prime contact
  11. If different than 6, the name of the person who hired you
  12. If different than 7, the normal location of the person who hired you
  13. If different than 8, the telephone number of the person who hired you
  14. Will you be providing (a) goods, (b) services, (c) real property, (4) intangible property, or (e) other
  15. A short statement of the proposed work
  16. If you are selling goods, the address to which goods will be shipped
  17. If you are providing services in respect of real property, the address at which you will be providing the services or the location of real property at issue
  18. Your client's/customer's GST/HST registration number

We would be willing to create a special file opening form for your business (for a fee to be determined based on the work involved - e.g., simple business would be $250 plus all applicable taxes).  We will ask more detailed questions about your business and add prompts for information that you will need to apply the HST place of supply rules (and ward away assessments).  We will teach you how to read the information so that you can charge the right amount of HST given your unique circumstances.  To prepare upfront, at the time of file opening, will in all likelihood be less expensive than a CRA assessment.

For more information, please contact me at 416-760-8999.  I am a Canadian sales tax lawyer.

HST and Actors/Actresses - Will HST Cause Actors/Actresses to Avoid Canada?

More actors and actresses are concerned that Ontario's and British Columbia's decisions to implement harmonized sales tax (HST) will affect them --- and they should be concerned.  If they do not consider the issue of HST, the cost may be 13% of the contract in Ontario or 12% in British Columbia.  Since an actor/actress may make millions of dollars filming a movie in Canada, we are not talking about small numbers.

Subsection 143(1) of the Excise Tax Act (Canada) provides that:

For the purposes of this Part, a supply of personal property or a service made in Canada by a non-resident person shall be deemed to be made outside Canada, unless
(a) the supply is made in the course of a business carried on in Canada;
(b) at the time the supply is made, the person is registered under Subdivision d of Division V; or
(c) the supply is the supply of an admission in respect of a place of amusement, a seminar, an activity or an event where the non-resident person did not acquire the admission from another person.

If this provision applies, then an actor/actress would not have to register for GST/HST purposes and would not have to charge collect and remit GST/HST on their services performed in Canada.

On the other hand, subsection 240(1) of the Excise Tax Act (Canada) is the provision relating to registration and provides that:

"Every person who makes a taxable supply in Canada in the course of a commercial activity engaged in by the person in Canada is required to be registered for the purposes of this Part, except where
(a) the person is a small supplier;
(b) the only commercial activity of the person is the making of supplies of real property by way of sale otherwise than in the course of a business; or
(c) the person is a non-resident person who does not carry on any business in Canada."

If a person must register for GST/HST purposes, they must charge, collect and remit GST/HST (if applicable) in respect of services performed in Canada (and a participating province).

Assuming that the actor/actress is a non-resident of Canada, the key question is whether they are "carrying on business" in Canada.  There is no definition of "carrying on business in Canada" in the Excise Tax Act.  As a result, whether a particular actor/actress is carrying on business in Canada will depend on the specific facts.  There are many factors specific to the work/life of the actor/actress, their background and their activities in a year that may cause the Canada Revenue Agency (Canada's IRS) (the "CRA) to conclude he/she is carrying on business in Canada as opposed to carrying on business outside Canada and visiting Canada (briefly) in connection with that outside business.

The CRA has issued a policy statement concerning the factors they consider when determining whether a person is carrying on business in Canada --- but none of the examples relates to actors/actresses. Policy Statement P-051R "Carrying on Business in Canada" was last updated in 2005.

It is important to note that getting GST/HST correct may mean that the actor/actress (or their production company) would charge GST/HST on the portion of their services performed in Canada and the payor would recover that GST/HST by way of an input tax credit.  If they do not ask the question, it may result in auditors, assessments and a bad & costly experience.

It is important to note that the GST/HST test is not connected to a permanent establishment in Canada like the Canada-United States Income Tax Treaty. In other words, an individual may not have to pay Canadian income tax and may be entitled to register for GST/HST purposes and charge GST/HST on a contract for services.

Canadian commodity tax lawyers can help apply the CRA's "carrying on business" test and provide opinions that are subject to solicitor-client privilege.

Have You Picked "The Chosen One" in Accounts Payable?

One risk-management step that is often over-looked in a time of sales tax reform is selecting "The Chosen One" in accounts payable who is tasked with reviewing all incoming invoices to ensure that suppliers are properly charging sales taxes. 

When auditors arrive with their spreadsheets in hand, they conduct a (1) purchase side audit and (2) a sales side audit. During the purchase side audit, the auditor reviews a sample of incoming invoices to ensure that the business under audit has paid the right amount of sales tax on its business inputs.  Where a supplier to the business does not charge retail sales tax (ORST) or goods and services tax (GST), the auditor will assess the purchaser business - as it is allowed to do under the law.

Businesses can control this assessment risk by assigning the task of reviewing incoming invoices to a trained person - "The Chosen One".  This accounts payable employee will review each incoming invoice and either seek corrections from the supplier or make arrangements to self-assess the tax that is applicable, but not charged.

With the start of harmonized sales tax (HST) in the provinces of Ontario and British Columbia, this is a perfect time to ensure that someone is actively reviewing incoming invoices.  First, you will want to make sure that suppliers are no longer charging ORST on invoices for goods and services provided after June 30, 2010.  If a supplier still shows ORST or PST (provincial sales tax) or RST (retail sales tax) as being charged on the invoice, you will want to follow-up and ask for a revised invoice.  It must be clear that ORST/PST/RST is not being charged.  It may be that HST is being charged, but it must be clear so that an auditor is not confused.

On that point, HST is supposed to be a single combined tax.  The vendor is not supposed to separate the charges into GST and HST on the invoice (except where the supplies are subject to the recaptured ITC rules).  As a result, in Ontario, the invoice should identify 13% HST and no 5% GST and 8% HST separately.

In addition, "The Chosen One" should review incoming invoices to ensure that HST is being charged where applicable.  As a result , you will need to determine when you must pay HST (not just when you must charge HST).  You will have to understand the HST place of supply rules as they apply to purchases.

Businesses outside the HST Zone will also have to have "The Chosen One" selected and briefed on the HST place of supply rules.  You should expect to see some invoices arriving from the HST Zone that will automatically charge HST at the applicable provincial rate of the supplier because that will be the safe default position.  Communication will be important after the implementation of HST to correct these types of errors.  When in doubt regarding the application of HST, the purchaser may obtain an advance ruling from the GST/HST Directorate of the Canada Border Services Agency.

Finally, non-residents of Canada that purchase goods/property and/or services from Canadian businesses also need to have "The Chosen One".  Many Canadian businesses have adjusted their billing systems with the implementation of HST.  There will be situations where previously zero-rated supplies (GST charged at 0%) will default in the computer systems to 12%, 13% or 15% HST depending on the location of the supplier.  A quick call to the supplier to notify them of the change would be in order so that the computer errors can be corrected.

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Canada Border Services Agency Publishes Fact Sheet on HST & Imports

The Canada Border Services Agency has published a Fact Sheet entitled "The Canada Border Services Agency's Implementation of the Ontario and British Columbia Harmonized Sales Tax" (June 2010), which sets out some of information importers should know about HST.

In short, HST will be applied in respect of non-commercial goods (a.k.a things individuals import for personal use).  The "official definition of a "non-commercial good" is: "Non-commercial goods" means "all goods, other than goods imported into Canada for sale, or for any commercial, industrial, occupational, institutional, or other like use."

Beginning July 1, 2010, the importation into Canada of non-commercial goods by or for a consumer that is a resident of Ontario or British Columbia, will be subject to the HST. The HST will apply to non-commercial goods destined for Ontario and British Columbia, regardless of where the goods enter into Canada. NOTE: Goods destined for Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland/Labrador are also subject to HST.

MORE IMPORTANTLY - As is the case today, the provincial component of the HST will not generally apply to commercial goods that are imported by an HST registrant for consumption, use or supply exclusively in the course of the commercial activities of the registrant.

For more information, please see the Fact Sheet.

The HST is Coming, The HST is Coming

Kevin Marron has written a helpful article about harmonized sales tax in "The Canadian Lawyer" magazine entitled "The HST is Coming, The HST is Coming".  I am not just saying it is a good article because I am quoted in the article.  My good friend, Terry Barnett, is also quoted.

Please note that I will be giving a presentation on HST for lawyers with David Schlessinger of KPMG LLP on June 23, 2010, which is being presented by the Law Society of Upper Canada.  Last I heard, over 283 people have signed up to listen.

Canada's Department of Finance Has Released Financial Institution Rules for the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST)

On May 19, 2010, the federal Department of Finance released "Financial Institution Rules for the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST)", which is a rather long and complicated document. The good news is that only financial institutions (including de minimis financial institutions) must figure out how this document changes their way of doing business and imposes new obligations.  The bad news is that financial institutions may charge higher service fees to cover their compliance costs / assessment risks.

The released document provides information on changes to rules for selected financial institutions (also known as SLFIs).  The changes include changes to the test for determining whether an entity is an SLFI.  As a result, it will be important for entities to apply the new test to see whether they are still SLFIs and whether they are now considered to be a SLFI.  The release states:

British Columbia and Ontario's decision to join the HST, effective July 1, 2010, will significantly increase the number of FIs that are SLFIs. For example, a bank with branches in Ontario and Manitoba and in no other provinces would become an SLFI only as a result of Ontario harmonization.

This statement suggests that some entities (were not considered to be SLFI before and are considered to be a SLFI now) now have a lot of work to do to prepare before July 1, 2010.

The released document also provides information to financial institutions about the "special attribution method" (friendly name "SAM") that they are required to use.  This complicated formula will likely appear in the coming weeks in regulations and, therefore, will not be subject to scrutiny by opposition MPs and the Canadian Senate.

The SAM attribution methods are briefly discussed for:

i. banks

ii. insurance corporations

iii. trust and loan corporations

iv. investment plans and segregated funds

v. other corporations, individuals and trusts

The publication also covers the following topics:

  • information requirements
  • penalties
  • MTFs that are ETFs
  • timing of PVAT (provincial HST component) determination under SAM
  • compliance rules
  • transitional rules for SLFIs re Ontario and BC
  • recapture of ITC rules for SLFIs
  • SLFI transition installment base
  • Imported supplies - non resident trusts
  • SLFI rules respecting deemed pension supplies and pension rebate


What Are The HST Place of Supply Rules For Customs Brokers?

On February 25, 2010, the Department of Finance released a News Release summarizing the proposed harmonized sales tax (“HST”) place of supply rules and shortly thereafter the Canada Revenue Agency released a GST/HST Technical Information Bulletin setting out its administrative position. On April 30, 2010, the Department of Finance released “Draft Regulations in respect of the Place of Supply of Property and Services” (the “Draft Regulations”). There is a separate HST place of supply rule for customs brokerage services.

Section 24 of the Draft Regulations sets out the HST place of supply rules for customs brokerage services:

24.(1) Where a supply of a service is made in respect of the importation of goods and the service is the arranging for their release (as defined in subsection 2(1) of the Customs Act) or the fulfilling, in respect of the importation, of any requirement under that Act or the Customs Tariff to account for the goods, to report, to provide information or to remit any amount,

(a) if the goods are accounted for as commercial goods (as defined in subsection 212.1(1) of the Act) under section 32 of the Customs Act, the supply is made in the province in which the goods are situated at the time of their release;
(b) if paragraph (a) does not apply and tax, calculated at the tax rate for a participating province, is imposed under subsection 212.1(2) of the Act, or would be so imposed if subsections 212.1(3) and (4) and section 213 of the Act did not apply, in respect of the importation, the supply is made in that participating province; and
(c) in any other case, the supply is made in a non-participating province.

(2) Subsection (1) does not apply to the supply of any service provided in relation to an objection, appeal, redetermination, re-appraisal, review, refund, abatement, remission or drawback, or in relation to a request for any of the foregoing.

This means that:

Rule 1: If commercial goods are imported into Canada, the place of supply of the customs brokerage and related services is in the province in which the goods are released. Therefore, if the goods are released at Toronto Pearson International Airport, the Ontario HST (13%) would apply. If the goods are released at the Vancouver Port, then British Columbia HST (12%) will apply. If the goods are released at the Halifax Port, the Nova Scotia HST (15%) will apply after July 1, 2010.


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Canada Revenue Agency Releases a New WebCast on Completing New Electronic GST/HST Return

The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) has made available a WebCast about the completion of the new electronic GST/HST return.  While the WebCast will not win an academy award for best short film or best foreign film, it is worth watching (it is longer than I expected).  If you cannot bear watching the WebCast, there is a transcript.

The WebCast gives important information to registrants for GST (and HST) purposes and others who must file GST/HST Returns.  The WebCast includes important information for builders of real property  and other businesses (anyone with sales over $1.5 Million in annual taxable sales (including exports and other zero-rated supplies)) who must file GST/HST Returns electronically starting with their July 2010 GST/HST Return or the GST/HST Return for the reporting period including July 1, 2010.   The July 1, 2010 date is important because Ontario and British Columbia want to have electronic records on how much HST they should be expecting to receive from Ottawa.

When planning to watch the WebCast, please  bring some healthy popcorn to watch the video as part of the video does explain how exactly you are to complete the GST/HST Return on a line by line basis.

At the present time, there are four different electronic filing options, as follows:

  • GST/HST EDI filing and remitting, and
  • Internet File Transfer, and we will review in detail the GST/HST NETFILE option.

For those who have never filed electronically using NETFILE go to to get signed up. Before you file, you will need your 15 digit Business Number, your Reporting Period dates and your four digit access code.

Watching the WebCast will give businesses who must file in this manner important ideas about how to set up their internal records and reporting systems to enable quick completion of the electronic GST/HST Return.  For example, the manner in which restricted input tax credits are required to be reported would suggest separate internal accounting records (General Ledger) accounts for Ontario, British Columbia, etc.  This would suggest that invoices should clearly indicate the place of the supply (e.g., write on the invoice "The Place of Supply is Ontario and, therefore the applicable GST/HST rate is 13%").  Taking such steps will make it easier for the auditors (and your memories) at the time of an audit.

Based on my discussions with some larger businesses who are being asked to file using the GST/HST NETFILE method, some businesses actually are not able to use the CRA's preferred electronic filing method due to their computer systems.

Another important issue that has arisen is payment.  Non-resident companies like the idea of electronic filing.  However, they do not have a Canadian funds bank account.  To open a Canadian funds bank account, they need to have an extra-provincial registration in a Canadian province of territory for doing business in that jurisdiction.  It is not necessary to have a permanent establishment in the province or territory to open a bank account. However, the CRA looks at the location of bank accounts in its consideration of residency/permanent establishments.  As a result, there is a problem that needs to be resolved to facilitate the quick payment of GST/HST obligations without changing ones characterization for other tax purposes.  I should note that it is not necessary to make payments of GST/HST Returns electronically and the old fashioned method of sending a cheque or wire transfer remains acceptable for now.