Senior enforcement officials at the Canada Revenue Agency attended several posh receptions offering free alcohol and hors d'oeuvres paid for by groups and firms in the tax industry, typically on the sidelines of major national conferences.
The numerous tax firms sponsoring the events included KPMG — which the CRA has alleged for years ran a "sham" offshore tax dodge for rich Canadians — as well as two law firms: Fraser Milner Casgrain (now known as Dentons), which court documents allege advised KPMG on setting up the offshore scheme, and Osler, which has been representing KPMG in court.
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Here are some of the events from the last five years:
'Fellowship and fun'
Canadian Tax Foundation 2010 conference, Vancouver
"We hope that you will join us for festivities, food, fellowship and fun at this indoor tailgate party," read the invitation from Fraser Milner Casgrain (now Dentons) to its event, which was open to conference attendees, including CRA executives.
Osler hosted another event the next day for government officials and private industry attendees. During the conference accounting firms Deloitte and KPMG each sponsored a refreshment break before and after panel discussions.
'Join your friends'
CTF 2011 conference, Montreal
"Join your friends from Fraser Milner Casgrain… for food, beverages, and great conversation as we kick off Grey Cup Sunday," read the invite from FMC. On Day 2, Osler sponsored another reception, and KPMG sponsored a refreshment break.
'Urban cowboy nightcap'
CTF 2012 conference, Calgary
Fraser Milner Casgrain again sponsored a Grey Cup tailgate party for conference attendees, including CRA personnel. The next day, Osler hosted an evening at a restaurant advertised online as "one of Calgary's most celebrated and sumptuous places to dine." That two-hour event for industry experts and government tax officials was followed by an "Urban cowboy nightcap" hosted by law firm Bennett Jones.
'Cocktails, hors d'oeuvres and music'
CTF 2013 conference, Toronto
Dentons (formerly Fraser Milner Casgrain) hosted their yearly Grey Cup tailgate party, advertising "food, drink and mingling." The next morning, accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers hosted breakfast for conference delegates. Then it was law firm Osler's turn to play host, at the Royal Conservatory of Music, at a soirée featuring "cocktails, hors d'oeuvres and music." For nighthawks, law firm Bennett Jones hosted its annual "nightcap reception" at the swanky Royal York hotel.
Canada Revenue Agency Commissioner Andrew Treusch gave a speech at the conference vowing tough action on offshore tax cheats. He was introduced by a KPMG tax executive and was followed by a round table discussion featuring three senior CRA alongside KPMG's head of tax and a lawyer. Treusch did not respond to questions about whether he attended receptions that year.
Court documents show that four weeks prior to his speech, the CRA had privately agreed to delay a court case against KPMG — involving allegations the firm had helped wealthy Canadians hide money offshore — and move instead to out-of-court discussions.
2014 Reception at Rideau Club, Ottawa
Tax industry group CPA Canada invited CRA officials to a reception at the Rideau Club in Ottawa, a venue that operates under a code of protection known as the "Chatham House Rules": unless otherwise stated, nothing is to be quoted. More than 20 senior CRA officials were "required" to attend, according to documents CBC News obtained under access-to-information. Three KPMG tax executives were on the attendee list.
The private function followed an afternoon meeting between the two groups, where CPA Canada's tax committee lobbied the CRA on a variety of topics.
The CRA did not answer questions about the hospitality offered at the Rideau Club that evening. The club's website shows the "reception menu" items at the time included options of cold canapés, scallop ceviche spoons and duck rillettes crostini.
'One of Vancouver's oldest and most respected private members clubs'
CTF 2014 conference, Vancouver
Law firm Dentons again hosted its annual tailgate reception. The next day, PricewaterhouseCoopers hosted breakfast for conference delegates. And in the evening, law firm Osler hosted a reception at the Terminal City Club, advertised online as one of the city's "oldest and most respected private members clubs." Once again, it was followed by a nightcap event hosted by law firm Bennett Jones.
At the conference, the Canada Revenue Agency's head of compliance, Richard Montroy, and a Justice Department tax lawyer spoke on a panel about "finding solutions" for tax disputes. The panellists included tax lawyer Pooja Samtani of Osler, who also happened to represent KPMG in its court battle against the CRA and was having confidential discussions with the agency and the Justice Department to resolve the dispute around the same time.
Tax Executive Institute 2015 conference, Ottawa
This three-day symposium included an evening gala at the Chateau Laurier hotel with "senior officials from the Department of Finance, Canada Revenue Agency and the Department of Justice," according to the program. Panelists included KPMG partner and former CRA acting assistant commissioner Paul Lynch, speaking on "tax transparency," as well as CRA Commissioner Andrew Treusch. Richard Montroy, at the time the CRA's assistant commissioner for compliance, said he spoke at the conference but didn't attend the gala. CBC News has learned that only two days before the conference, the CRA offered a secret amnesty deal to the KPMG Isle of Man tax dodgers.
2015 Rideau Club reception, Ottawa
Less than a month after the Chateau Laurier gala, CRA brass met again with tax industry executives at the exclusive Rideau Club in a private reception, at the invitation of tax industry umbrella group CPA Canada. The CRA says the purpose of the reception — like the one the year before — was not to discuss particular client files but rather to build "constructive relationships with our stakeholders."
The CRA did not answer specific questions about what kind of hospitality was offered that evening, and says it does not have records of who exactly attended. A media spokesperson insisted "no conversations were held by any CRA official with any KPMG official, or anyone else in attendance, about any case under compliance action by the CRA." The spokesperson said CRA Commissioner Andrew Treusch "did drop by."
Osler reception, Bennett Jones nightcap
CTF 2015 conference, Montreal
The opening day reception was hosted by law firm Dentons. PricewaterhouseCoopers sponsored a morning breakfast, and in the evening Osler — still representing KPMG in its court case with the CRA — hosted its annual reception, followed again by a Bennett Jones "nightcap" reception.
Duff Conacher, a visiting professor of politics at the University of Ottawa and co-founder of Democracy Watch, says it's important that the public knows about receptions paid for by the tax industry and attended by public officials.
"The public has a right to know what their employees are doing in order to be able to judge whether government officials are acting properly and upholding the public interest or acting improperly and unethically," he said.
CRA spokesperson Philippe Brideau said all of the CRA attendees acted ethically at each event. "The suggestion that CRA officials can be influenced to treat certain taxpayers and their representatives differently than others is categorically false," he said. "The CRA ensures that integrity is firmly grounded in our organization. We have done this because public trust in the Agency is central to our ability to carry out our mandate."
He also said that CRA officials in attendance "did not intervene" in any decision-making on the KPMG file.