Canada vs Loblaw Financial Holdings Inc., December 2021, Supreme Court, Case No 2021 SCC 51

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In 1992, Loblaw Financial Holdings Inc. (“Loblaw Financial”), a Canadian corporation, incorporated a subsidiary in Barbados. The Central Bank of Barbados
issued a licence for the subsidiary to operate as an offshore bank named Glenhuron Bank Ltd. (“Glenhuron”). Between 1992 and 2000, important capital investments in Glenhuron were made by Loblaw Financial and affiliated companies (“Loblaw Group”). In 2013, Glenhuron was dissolved, and its assets were liquidated.

For the 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2008 and 2010 taxation years, Loblaw Financial did not include income earned by Glenhuron in its Canadian tax returns as foreign accrual property income (“FAPI”).

Under the FAPI regime in the Income Tax Act (“ITA”), Canadian taxpayers must include income earned by their controlled foreign affiliates (“CFAs”) in their Canadian annual tax returns on an accrual basis if this income qualifies as FAPI. However, financial institutions that meet specific requirements benefit from an exception to the FAPI rules found in the definition of “investment business” at s. 95(1) of the ITA. The financial institution exception is available where the following requirements are met:
(1) the CFA must be a foreign bank or another financial institution listed in the exception provision;
(2) its activities must be regulated under foreign law;
(3) the CFA must employ more than five full-time employees in the active conduct of its business; and
(4) its business must be conducted principally with persons with whom it deals at arm’s length.
Loblaw Financial claimed that Glenhuron’s activities were covered by the financial institution exception to the FAPI rules. The Minister disagreed with Loblaw
Financial and reassessed it on the basis that the income earned by Glenhuron during the years in issue was FAPI. Loblaw Financial objected and appealed the
reassessments.

The Tax Court held that the financial institution exception did not apply, as Glenhuron’s business was conducted principally with non-arm’s length persons. In reaching its decision, the court considered the scope of Glenhuron’s relevant business, looking at its receipt of funds and use of funds. It included in its analysis all receipts of funds indiscriminately, treating capital injections by shareholders and lenders like any other receipt of funds. The Tax Court also viewed Glenhuron’s use of funds as the management of an investment portfolio on the Loblaw Group’s behalf and regarded the influence of the Loblaw Group’s central management as pervading the conduct of business because of the Loblaw Group’s close oversight of Glenhuron’s investment activities.

The Federal Court of Appeal disagreed with the Tax Court’s interpretation of the arm’s length requirement and with its analysis based on receipt and use of funds. It held that only Glenhuron’s income-earning activities had to be considered. It also found that direction, support, and oversight by the Loblaw Group should not have been considered, because these interactions are not income-earning activities and thus do not amount to conducting business with the CFA. It concluded that Glenhuron was dealing principally with arm’s length persons, and that Loblaw Financial was entitled to the benefit of the financial institution exception and did not need to include Glenhuron’s income as FAPI. It referred the reassessments back to the Minister for reconsideration However, the Tax Court’s interpretation of a technical provision in the Canadian legislation had the consequence that Loblaw would nonetheless have to pay $368 million in taxes and penalties.

Judgement of the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court upheld the decision of the Federal Court and set aside the assessment.

The tax exception did apply, so Loblaw Financial did not have to pay taxes on the money made by Glenhuron.

The arm’s length requirement was met.

According to the Court “the FAPI regime is one of the most complicated statutory regimes in Canadian law”, but the question in this appeal is simple. Is a company “doing business” with a foreign affiliate when it manages and gives money to it? No. When the arm’s length requirement in the Income Tax Act is read in its grammatical and ordinary sense, it is clear money and management to an affiliate is not included in “doing business”.

Loblaw Financial managed and gave money to Glenhuron, but it was not doing business with it. Rather, as a corporate bank, Glenhuron was doing business with other companies not related to it. So, the arm’s length requirement was met. As a result, the tax exception applied, and Loblaw Financial did not have to pay taxes on the money made by Glenhuron for the years in question.

 
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Canada vs Loblaw SC 2021

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