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Can the Canada Revenue Agency do that? Understanding your rights as a business owner

I often hear from business owners wondering if the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) can do or say certain things when dealing with the collection of taxes. The CRA has specific guidelines for collecting taxes and gathering information; guidelines that determine the process of how and when the CRA can collect overdue or outstanding taxes as well as the procedure for conducting audits. What many business owners don’t realize is that whenever you deal with the CRA, the CRA is operating under a set of rules to ensure fairness and protection to each taxpayer. This is called the Taxpayer Bill of Rights.

The CRA believes that you are more likely to comply with the law if you have the information and services you need to meet your obligations. The Taxpayer Bill of Rights is there to ensure you receive all of your entitlements and that you understand your rights.

So what are these rights?

The Taxpayer Bill of Rights describes and defines sixteen rights, and builds upon the CRA's corporate values of professionalism, respect, integrity, and cooperation. The Bill of Rights describes the treatment you are entitled to when you deal with the CRA. Here are a few of the 16 rights:

  • You have the right to be treated professionally, courteously and fairly.
  • You have the right to lodge a service complaint and to be provided with an explanation of the findings.
  • You have the right to request relief from penalties and interest under tax legislation because of extraordinary circumstances.
  • You have a right to a formal review and subsequent appeal. 

The CRA also has a five point commitment to small business. They commit to:

  • Minimizing the cost of compliance to small businesses,
  • Streamlining services,
  • Conducting outreach activities to help small businesses comply, 
  • Explaining how the CRA conducts business with small businesses, and;
  • Providing service offerings that meet the needs of small businesses.

The Taxpayer Bill of Rights does not relieve you from any obligation as a taxpayer; you must still submit and remit your personal and business taxes according to the timelines set out in the legislation. Even when working with the CRA a business needs to understand that they have a duty to get up-to-date with payments as quickly as they can. The CRA has the legislated right to follow protocols including freezing bank accounts, seizing assets, and more. The Bill of Rights ensures that at no time during this process should you be bullied, harassed, abused or mistreated. 

Taxpayers’ Ombudsman

The Office of the Taxpayers’ Ombudsman (OTO) is responsible for upholding the eight service rights contained in the Taxpayer Bill of Rights. The OTO investigates complaints that the CRA has not respected your taxpayer service rights, i.e.:

  • Undue delays;
  • Poor or misleading behaviour;
  • Staff behaviour; or
  • Mistakes, which could lead to a misunderstanding.

Note that the OTO cannot investigate until the CRA’s internal complaint resolution processes have been exhausted; and complaints that are not service-related (for example, relating to tax policy) are outside the mandate of the OTO. 

In August 2018, the OTO announced it would be launching an investigation to determine whether the CRA is effectively applying the Bill of Rights, and to review how the CRA measures its effectiveness. 

If you have a service complaint about the CRA, you can file it with the OTO either by calling 1-866-586-3839, by e-mail at [email protected], or by using the online form. If you have comments regarding the CRA’s integration of the Bill of Rights, you can use the contact methods above to provide relevant information to the OTO’s review. 

If you have questions or concerns about your taxpayer rights or what to do if you feel your rights have been violated, you can make a service complaint directly to the CRA or you can talk to your CFIB Business Counsellor by calling 1-888-234-2232 or by e-mailing [email protected].


Who is Jocelyn?

Jocelyn Rhindress is the Regional Team Leader of Business Resources for Atlantic Canada. In her more than her five years with CFIB Jocelyn has assisted thousands of members with their business inquiries. Her compassion for entrepreneurs started at a young age. Jocelyn grew up watching both her grandfather and father run their own small independent businesses where she witnessed both the joys and struggles that entrepreneurs face on a regular basis.

Jocelyn holds a Bachelor of Commerce in Marketing and Economics from Mount Allison University and also has a Certificate of Human Resource Management from Dalhousie University Continuing Education.  Jocelyn thoroughly enjoys finding answers, solving problems, giving advice, and supporting CFIB members. She is proud to be a part of CFIB where she promotes the vision to be the most courageous, connected and influential voice committed to the growth of Canadian Entrepreneurs. Feel free to contact Jocelyn or her Business Resource colleagues with any business question, concern or issue you may be facing. Help and support is just a phone call or email away.

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Topics in this Article: Tax Compliance

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