The media has created a great deal of confusion about the use of offshore trusts and offshore bank accounts by Canadians.
The key point, frequently missed by the media, is that it is not illegal for a Canadian taxpayer to set up an offshore trust or offshore investment company, or to open an offshore bank account. There is nothing illegal about having assets offshore and no reason why an honest Canadian taxpayer should worry, whatever the media may say.
Here are a few examples of possible reasons to do so:
These actions are perfectly legitimate, from a Canadian income tax standpoint, as long as Canadian tax rules are followed.
Canadians resident are taxable on worldwide income. Income earned by their offshore trust, investment company or bank account must either be reported annually as part of the Canadian’s worldwide income, or the trust must file a Canadian tax return and pay Canadian tax on its income.
Canadian taxpayers must report annually on their ownership of foreign assets (other than personal use assets) above a certain threshold. There is a specific question in the 2012 T1 tax return (and prior years): “Did you own or hold foreign property at any time in 2012 with a total cost of more than CAN$100,000”. Form 1135 must be filed if the answer is “yes”, and there are penalties for failure to file or for late filing.
The T1 return also includes the following statement:
“If you had dealings with a non-resident trust or corporation in 2012, see ‘Foreign income’ in the guide” because there are additional forms and disclosure requirements.
Canadian taxpayers who report foreign income and assets correctly on their T1 return and the other necessary forms have no reason to worry but can anticipate enquiries from the CRA.
Failure to report foreign income is tax evasion, which is a very serious matter. These situations can be corrected without risk of penalty or criminal charges by filing a voluntary disclosure (see Information Circular 00-1R3)
The so-called “leaks” of confidential banking and other information from foreign sources are very exciting for the media. The problem is that the media fails to report (or perhaps fails to understand) that there is nothing illegal in offshore activities if Canadians follow the law. The media seldom has information on whether a taxpayer has reported foreign income and assets to the Canada Revenue Agency, and so speculation may be reported as facts.
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