Canada: Tax Court Delivers Smackdown To Charitable Donor

Leveraged donation programs sound like the perfect option for budding philanthropists: Put $100 in, get $160 back, and your favourite charity gets a large donation. A win-win scenario? Not according to the Canada Revenue Agency.

No good deed goes unpunished — that is what Canadian taxpayers might reasonably conclude after the judicial smackdown recently delivered to a donor who participated in a leveraged charitable donation program. In Maréchaux v. Canada, [2009] T.C.J. No. 467 (aff'd [2010] F.C.J. No. 1337), the donor, a real estate lawyer, had claimed a donation tax credit on a $100,000 cash gift made to a registered charity. The Tax Court, in a decision upheld by the Federal Court of Appeal, denied him the credit because most of the donation was financed by a loan made to him on exceedingly favourable terms. The aspect of this decision that surprised many observers is that Maréchaux was not allowed a credit even for the cash portion of the gift paid out of his own pocket.

Maréchaux is not alone. Thousands of Canadians who participated in similar donation programs have been reassessed, and were anxiously awaiting the outcome of this case. Their hoped-for tax refunds will never materialize.

Leveraged donation programs have been very popular. They are often marketed to accountants and financial advisers, who are urged to recommend them to their high-net-worth clients.

The promoters of these programs promise donors an opportunity to make a large donation, either in cash or property, to a registered charity of the donor's choice (or to choose from a list of preselected charities) and receive a donation receipt that will generate a tax refund substantially greater than the cash outlay required. In many cases, the promoter has obtained a written opinion from a reputable law firm, which prospective donors are shown, describing the program as having a "slim" chance of being challenged by the CRA.

In Maréchaux, the program worked this way: In exchange for making a $30,000 cash donation to a charitable foundation, Maréchaux obtained a 20-year interest-free loan in the amount of $80,000 from a lender which was owned by the program's promoter, and created for the sole purpose of providing loans to donors. $70,000 of this amount was donated to the foundation. (The foundation then paid the funds to two charities, one of which had entered into a fundraising agreement with the promoter.) The foundation issued a receipt reflecting a donation of $100,000.

Of the remaining $10,000, Maréchaux deposited $8,000 with the lender as security for the loan, with the intention that it would accrete to $80,000 in 20 years. A further $800 portion was paid for a policy to insure against the risk that the security deposit would not accrete to that amount. The remaining $1,200 was paid as a fee to the promoter. The same day, Maréchaux satisfied the loan by assigning the security deposit and insurance policy back to the lender. Had the CRA accepted his claim for a tax credit for the $100,000 donation, Maréchaux would have received a rate of return exceeding 60 per cent on his initial $30,000 cash outlay.

The CRA scuttled this arrangement. The Tax Court agreed, holding that Maréchaux was not entitled to a tax credit in relation to any of the amount donated, because he did not make a true "gift" to the charitable foundation. Why was it not a true gift? Because, the court said, a "significant benefit" had flowed to him in return for making it.

That "benefit" was the financing arrangement — the $80,000, 20-year interest-free loan, together with the arrangement that enabled Maréchaux to discharge it immediately after he incurred it. The court said it was clear that the $8,000 security deposit could not be expected to accrete to "anywhere near" $80,000 in 20 years, so it could not be said that he had paid sufficient consideration to discharge the loan.

The CRA has already indicated that it is inclined to treat donors who have participated in similar programs like Maréchaux. But donors who wish to have recognized at least the cash portion of their donation (in Maréchaux's case, the $30,000 amount) may yet be able to do so.

What was not argued in Maréchaux is that the loan was not a bona fide financing arrangement. In many of these cases, there is never a true expectation that the donor will ever be obliged to repay the loan. The financing itself is no more than a pretence, the purpose of which is to put fees in the pocket of the promoter and the lender. It does not reflect a true obligation of the donor to the lender.

If the financing arrangement is not bona fide, and the donor never himself obtains the use of the "borrowed" money, what possible benefit could there be to the donor from the extinguishment of this phony liability immediately after it is incurred? None. The cash portion of the gift should not be vitiated.

Of course, this argument would require donors to concede that the borrowed amount will not be recognized as a gift. This means saying goodbye to the prospect of a high rate of return on the cash donation.

As your mother always said, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.