A commitment of $30 million to fight tax evasion and to target the practice of hiding money in offshore accounts has been announced by Revenue Minister Gail Shea and her cabinet colleague Maxime Bernier.
Shea said that $15 million of the resources the government wants to put into fighting tax avoidance is what she called "refocused" Canada Revenue Agency funds. The other $15 million is new money that had been earmarked for chasing down tax evaders in the government's spring budget.
Last month, CBC News reported that 450 Canadians are among more than 130,000 people worldwide found to hold accounts in countries known to be offshore tax havens. The revelations were part of an exclusive worldwide release of offshore financial information, that was first obtained by the Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.
After CBC's report, Shea asked for the names of the 450 Canadians using offshore tax havens. Asked by reporters Wednesday if her department now has the names, Shea said, "Well we currently don’t have the list and I can assure you that we’re looking at all of our options. We’re working with our international partners to get that list."
A 'SWAT' team to catch tax cheaters
Shea also announced the formation of a team within the CRA, composed of international tax experts, to track down tax avoiders. Bernier referred to it as a SWAT team.
As well, there will be a new requirement, already announced in the 2013 budget, that international electronic fund transfers over $10,000 will now be reportable to CRA.
Another "tool," also mentioned in Budget 2013, will be a reward system for people who blow the whistle on tax evaders. Shea explained that anyone who tips off the government about an amount of money over $100,000 stashed in an international tax haven will be paid a percentage of that money once it's recovered.
"Some Canadians go to great lengths to avoid paying taxes," Shea said, adding that this is an unfair burden on Canadians who play by the rules.
Last week, the Commons finance committee released its recommendations following a two-year study on tax havens, urging the government to take more action against those who attempt to evade the Canadian tax system.
The 2013 federal budget in March contained several new measures to fight tax evasion, including the establishment of a "snitch line" to help identify those dodging the authorities. But critics have questioned whether these moves can yield the potential results identified in budget figures.
The opposition has argued that recent cuts to Shea's department undermine the Canada Revenue Agency's ability to make meaningful progress towards tax compliance.
"They're cutting $68 million from the CRA's accounts receivable and returns compliance department," said NDP national revenue critic Murray Rankin during question period.
"When are they going to reverse those cuts? when are they going to show real action on tax cheats?" he said.
Shea said Wednesday that the new money from her government will help beef up CRA's audit functions.