The most recent federal omnibus budget bill included a clause that will allow the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) to share – without a warrant – personal information of taxpayers with law enforcement agencies when it appears to pertain to a variety of offences.
The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) administers tax laws for the Government of Canada and for most provinces and territories, and administers various social and economic benefit and incentive programs delivered through the tax system.
The Canada Income Tax Act s. 241 governs the confidentiality of taxpayer information, heavily restricting the sharing of taxpayer information. The section primarily permits the sharing of information for the purposes of benefits and taxation programs. There is, however, a limited power to share information for extremely serious criminal offences where the official has and sets out in writing reasonable grounds to believe that the information provides evidence of one of the listed offences.
The Taxpayer Bill of Rights adopted by the Canada Revenue Agency includes a right to privacy and confidentiality. That right provides that:
Only employees who need your information to administer programs and legislation have access to your information.
We also take other steps to protect your information and make sure it is kept confidential. For example, we follow government-wide and internal policies on the security of information and privacy. We also regularly review our internal processes to make sure your information is safe.
Canada’s taxation system relies on taxpayers to perform their own self-assessment, providing it thereafter to the CRA for processing. A key component in encouraging honesty in that self-assessment are these guarantees of privacy and confidentiality – the idea that taxation information will be kept in its own silo and not indiscriminately shared with other government departments is the correlative of expecting honesty and transparency from taxpayers.
Will the public be aware of the increased scope of information sharing to which their personal tax information may now be subject?
Can information provided via self-assessment truly be expected to reveal evidence of crime(s)? Are CRA representatives qualified to make sure determinations, especially in the absence of any form of oversight or warrant requirement? Or is this, in fact, simply another information grab, intended to improve profiling by enlarging the available data pool rather than actually identifying crime or criminals? It’s not enough for the justification(s) for information sharing to sound on the surface as though they will increase security and safety – they should actually lead to it, or else the privacy and confidentiality of taxpayers should remain inviolate.