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Lethbridge Herald Newspaper Archives

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Lethbridge Herald, The (Newspaper) - August 13, 1970, Lethbridge, Alberta August 13, 1970 THE IETHBRIDGE HERAU) Your Sma suggested, at least it's a. start in the right direction. The new court system authored by Justice Minister John Turner, himself a noted tax law practitioner before his entry into public life, will do much to expedite the processing of disputes between taxpayers and Government. 'Tha Tax Appeal Board which hears the vast majority of But cases will disappear, as such, and will re-appear under a new name The Tax Review Board. The change; in name reflects1 tlie reduction in formality of proceedings. It is apparently intended that hearings of tax disputes will continue to be simple and less immeshed in legal logistics than is normally encountered. The make-up of the Board will now guarantee French Canadian representation by statute rather than by custom. Either the Chairman or Assistant Chan-man must be a Judge or lawyer from Quebec. Tlie statute establishing the new Board specifically spells out that hearings are to be informal and devoid of the technical and sometimes anachronistic rules of evidence and legal procedure. For example, a taxpayer need not be represented by a lawyer but is free to present his own case or use an agent. The Tax Review Board will be bound to hold its hearings privately if the taxpayer so requests. This carry-over from the Tax Appeal Board rules is designed to ensure a taxpayer privacy regarding his financial affairs should he feel a public disclosure might injure him in his business. Unfortunately the privacy provision does not go quite as far as it should because although the hearing may be in camera, the judgment of the Board which must necessarily identify the taxpayer and refer to the specifics of his financial affairs, is still a public document open to the scrutiny of all. On this score it should be remembered that until a few years ago one could appeal a tax assessment, lay before the Board his entire business affairs and be guaranteed anonymity both in the hearings and in the published judgment of the case. It is still felt by many personal tax consultants that the publicity of a tax case inhibits many taxpayers from exercising their right to dispute their tax assessments. Perhaps the most significant and welcome change in the rules is that which provides that if the Board renders a judgment in favor of the taxpayer and the Crown appeals the case further, then unless the amount of tax in dispute exceeds the' Government must pay all of the taxpayer's legal costs of the case. This is designed to protect taxpayers from having to finance the cost of the Government, wishing to establish a legal precedent by taking a case involving little tax all through the Courts, until a favorable judgment is obtained. While Justice Minister Turner is to be commended for this step toward making justice more acceptable to all Canadians, he will know himself that this gesture is insufficient. The legal costs of exercising one's right to quarrel with the state have become so high that the vast majority of Canadians cannot afford a contest with the Crown. What useful purpose is served when a country has a most enlightened set of laws, and provides ample remedies for citizens who are abused by bureau-racy, but the cost of availing oneself of that protection and seeking those remedies is beyond the financial reach of most citizens. Obviously the enlightened law reform program, already auspiciously launched in many areas by Mr. Turner, cannot be considered complete until the law provides that any citizen who is called upon to account to his Government before the Courts, whether on a tax matter or otherwise, should only dt> so at the public's and not his own expense. Tte second phase of tax court reform currently before Parliament is the Bill to bury the present Exchequer Court and reincarnate it as the hew Federal Court. The legislation goes seme distance toward streamlining the old Court into a modern, more efficient and more appropriately entitled body in which most disputes over Federal legislation will be heard. Included in its jurisdiction is the duty to hear appeals from the newly created Tax Review Board, as well as the responsibility to hear tax cases taken directly to that Court. As with the Tax Review Board, representation from the Quebec Judiciary is guaranteed, but unfortunately, no other region of Canada is assured membership on this important The Federal Court is to be divided into two sections: the Trial Division which will hoar cases in the first instance, and, the other, the Federal Court of Appeal to which one may appeal an adverse judgment of the Federal Court Trial Division. The Appeal Division is also authorized to Irear certain appeals from decisions of Government appointed Boards, Tribunals and Commissions, such as the CRTC, and the like. This embellishment of civil rights is commendable. In order to spare the Canadian Supreme Court tte onerous duty of hearing countless tax cases which might otherwise be appealed all the way from the Tax Review Board, to the Federal Court Trial Division, to the Federal Court of Appeal and then to the Supreme Court, some reasonable limitations have been imposed on the kind of tax cases that can reach the highest Court. These reforms of the judicial mechanism regulating tax dis-putes do not go nearly as far as "fr. Turner's growing audience of admirers might have expected. They are not of the same caliber that characterized his Criminal Code reforms, the new bail law and the forthcoming invasion of privacy legislation. But, it's a workable beginning. 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