The ombudsman for Canadian taxpayers is offering a new assurance for people who fear there may be a backlash if they lodge a complaint against the revenue department.
Ombudsman J. Paul Dube has announced an addition to the Taxpayer Bill of Rights that says Canadians are entitled to lodge service complaints and request formal reviews without fear of reprisal from the Canadian Revenue Agency.
Dube said the new right was created because some taxpayers are concerned about exercising their rights when dealing with the CRA.
"They fear being put on a black list or being subjected to more frequent audits or having penalties and interest imposed," said Dube.
He made the announcement Wednesday with federal Revenue Minister Gail Shea, who said that move would change the internal review process of complaints, but would not create any new jobs at the CRA.
"In the past if someone felt there had been some sort of a reprisal for a complaint that would have probably have been dealt with by that employee's supervisor," said Shea. "Now the complaint will be dealt with by a whole other section of the department at headquarters."
People are afraid, says taxpayer group
The new addition to the bill of rights has the support of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, a taxpayer advocacy group.
"We hear absolutely heartbreaking stories about people who run afoul of the CRA," said Gregory Thomas, the federation's federal director. "They get caught up in what they perceive as a bureaucratic nightmare and it has a tremendous negative impact on their businesses, their work life and on their family life."
While Thomas said he had never come across an instance of the of the CRA launching reprisals against complainants, he thinks Canadians will appreciate the added clarity when they deal with the agency.
"Whether or not these fears are real, I can tell you that people really have these fears," said Thomas.
Dube also said he had never seen CRA reprisals against taxpayers during his five years as ombudsman but he still felt it was important to expand the Taxpayer Bill of Rights.
"The creation of this new right and the resulting enhancement of the Taxpayer Bill of Rights results from feedback that I've heard from stakeholders across the country," said Dube.
Taxpayer Bill of Rights not a law
The Ombudsman has filed six special reports and made 26 special recommendations to Canada Revenue Agency since the office of the ombudsman was created five years ago.
The Taxpayer Bill of Rights, which was created in 2007, is not enforceable by law but instead is billed as an official commitment from the CRA to taxpayers.
It also includes the right to privacy, the right to timely information and the right to service in both official languages.
Dube said the ombudsman's office receives about 5,400 complaints about the CRA or the tax system each year and opens files on about 1,000.