Split tax information sharing plan from budget bill, says critic
Controversial proposals would allow income tax return information to be shared with foreign police
A controversial proposal to give the Canadian government more powers to share confidential tax return information with police in foreign countries should be broken out of the budget and tabled separately in the House of Commons, said Conservative revenue critic Pat Kelly.
"We should have an opportunity to debate it separately and at committee hear testimony from the privacy commissioner," Kelly said.
"It's not budgetary. There are significant privacy issues that really should be debated and I'm not prepared to take a position on whether or not this expansion of their information-sharing regime is appropriate or not until that debate and discussion and details are provided."
Kelly's comments came after CBC News revealed the existence of proposals tucked into a 78-page annex to the budget Finance Minister Bill Morneau tabled Tuesday that would give government officials new powers to fight crimes like offshore tax evasion, drug trafficking, money laundering and organized crime.
Currently, the Canada Revenue Agency can share confidential tax information about Canadians with tax authorities in other countries that are investigating serious cases of tax evasion. However, under Canadian law it cannot share that information with officials in another country investigating crimes other than tax evasion.
"Budget 2018 proposes to enable the sharing of tax information with Canada's mutual legal assistance partners in respect of acts that, if committed in Canada, would constitute terrorism, organized crime, money laundering, criminal proceeds or designated substance offences," says the document.
Canada currently has mutual legal assistance agreements with 35 other countries, including the United States, the European Union, Brazil, Belgium, France, Israel, Russia and China.
Under a second proposal, the government would allow the use of legal tools contained in the Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Act — such as court orders — to obtain information being sought by another tax authority.
The government also plans to give Canadian police new powers to obtain court orders for information under the Excise Act, which taxes a variety of products, including tobacco and alcohol.
Michael Bryant of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association said he has concerns about the proposed changes.
"The big concern is that Canada would be unwittingly participating in a star chamber investigation and prosecution of somebody in another jurisdiction," he said, "or that Canadians would in essence be thrown under the bus and information would be shared with other jurisdictions that don't have our due process and constitutional protections."
'Why is it in the budget?'
Kelly questions why the proposed changes are in the budget.
"It was surprising to see it in the budget there because I can't find any budgetary amount attributed to that. So if this isn't an expenditure issue, one wonders — why it is in the budget?
"Burying it on page 37 of the annex without any numbers, I do kind of question why they are doing that. It almost looks like something that is trying to be slipped in 400 pages of other stuff."
Kelly said cracking down on international money laundering is an important task — but so is protecting Canadians' privacy.
"My colleagues and I are all for taking steps to ensure that Canadians and foreign nationals comply with Canadian law and that we cooperate with international partners more broadly on criminal investigations," he said.
"But privacy is a major, major concern and it's not clear whether a privacy impact assessment has taken place."
Tobi Cohen, spokeswoman for Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien's office, said the office has not yet received a privacy impact assessment (PIA) from the government for the measures included in the budget.
"We would expect to receive a PIA for any new or redesigned program or service that raises privacy issues," she said.
Cohen said the privacy commissioner's office will wait to see the details of the measures in legislation before it comments further.
A Finance Department spokesman said government officials contacted Therrien's office about the proposed policy change before the budget was tabled.
"As the Government moves forward with developing the details of the proposed measure, it intends to work with the Office of the Privacy Commissioner to minimize any privacy concerns by ensuring that any appropriate safeguards are in place to protect taxpayer information," he said.
'We have to be careful'
NDP revenue critic Pierre-Luc Dusseault supports the idea of countries working together to fight crimes like offshore tax evasion.
"You need more collaboration between countries to get criminals behind bars," he said.
However, Dusseault said he also wants to see the legislative details of what the government is proposing.
"We have to be careful, of course. We don't want to share too much information with foreign countries – especially those that have very bad human rights records."
Elizabeth Thompson can be reached at email@example.com