Canada: TCC: Unpaid Dividend Refund Is Not A Refund

Last Updated: April 27 2015
Article by Jesse S. Brodlieb

A pair of recent Tax Court of Canada judgments highlight the unsustainable position taken by the CRA that a statute-barred dividend refund that cannot be recovered by the taxpayer nonetheless reduces taxpayer's "refundable dividend tax on hand" ("RDTOH") balance.

We have written in this space before about the Tax Court's strict interpretation of the three-year time limitation to receive a dividend refund under subsection 129(1) of the Income Tax Act. A consequence of this limitation is that where a taxpayer has missed the three-year filing deadline to obtain a dividend refund there can be "trapped" RDTOH which will require that the corporation pay a taxable dividend at some point in the future in order receive a dividend refund. The CRA, though, continues to take the position that the original taxable dividend reduces the RDTOH balance even where the dividend refund cannot be paid due to the three-year window being missed.

This issue was recently considered in two cases:  Presidential MSH Corporation v. The Queen (2015 TCC 61) and Nanica Holdings Limited v. The Queen  (2015 TCC 85). In both cases, the issue was the same – whether the definition of "dividend refund" in subsection 129(3) refers to an amount that was paid or credited to the corporation or is merely a notional account that is automatically reduced notwithstanding that the corporation did not receive a refund. This latter position had been explicitly rejected by the Tax Court in Tawa Developments Inc. v. The Queen (2011 TCC 440). In Presidential and Nanica, the Tax Court held that an unpaid dividend refund is not a refund at all.

Yet the CRA apparently continues to enforce the Act as though the dividend refund is notional – no amount is required to be paid in order for the corporation to obtain a "dividend refund" and therefore the RDTOH balance is reduced without payment.

Fortunately, the Tax Court takes a more sensible interpretation in the recent decisions.

In Presidential, the Court undertook a textual, contextual and purposive analysis of the dividend refund concept, concluding that a payment was required before the RDTOH balance could be reduced. In rendering his judgement, however, Justice David Graham noted that the relevant provisions lack clarity and urged Parliament to take corrective measures to clear up the language in this area.

In Nanica, which was released after the decision in Presidential, Justice Valerie Miller reached the same conclusion, ultimately agreeing with the earlier decisions that "the phrase 'dividend refund' in section 129 is the refund of an amount". There is no reduction of the RDTOH balance where the corporation does not receive a refund.

In light of these decisions, we hope the CRA will align its assessing position with the clear interpretation of the Tax Court.

For more information, visit our Canadian Tax Litigation blog at www.canadiantaxlitigation.com

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