On May 13, 2014, Calgary lawyer Roy Berg appeared as a witness before the House Finance Committee in Ottawa. His testimony was in relation to Bill C – 31 AKA Canada’s FATCA implementation legislation which was called:
CANADA–UNITED STATES ENHANCED TAX INFORMATION EXCHANGE AGREEMENT IMPLEMENTATION ACT
This legislation was for the purpose of the Canadian Government complying with Canada’s FATCA obligations under the IGA. The text of the proposed laws is at the end of this post.*
I will let Mr. Berg’s testimony speak for itself. It is interesting in at least one significant respect. Mr. Berg’s testimony illuminates the problem when the U.S. and Canada define the same term in different ways. I remind you that under the Canada U.S. FATCA IGA, that each country is free to interpret the agreement. See for example S. 2 of Article I of the Canada U.S. IGA which reads as follows:
Any term not otherwise defined in this Agreement shall, unless the context otherwise requires or the Competent Authorities agree to a common meaning (as permitted by domestic law), have the meaning that it has at that time under the law of the Party applying this Agreement, any meaning under the applicable tax laws of that Party prevailing over a meaning given to the term under other laws of that Party.
Note the problems created by definitions.
Mr. Berg’s testimony included:
Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee.
My name is Roy Berg. I’m a U.S. tax lawyer with Moodys Gartner. I was born, raised, and educated in the U.S. I practised in the U.S. for 17 years in tax law before immigrating to Canada three years ago. Therefore, I think there are very few individuals who have more personally and professionally vested in this issue than I do.
On March 9, 2014 our office submitted extensive analysis and commentary to the Department of Finance regarding our concerns about the draft legislation, and on April 10 we submitted a brief on these concerns to the committee. I will be happy to elaborate on any of the materials we have submitted, as they’re quite detailed and quite specific.
Before I summarize our comments on the draft legislation, however, I want to emphasize that we do agree with the Minister of Finance that entering into the IGA with the U.S. was beneficial to Canada. Had Canada not entered into the IGA, Canadian financial institutions would have faced the unenviable dilemma of either complying with Canadian law and risking FATCA’s 30% withholding tax or complying with FATCA and risking violating Canadian law.
Unfortunately, as FATCA is drafted and the IGAs are designed, there is no middle ground. Those are simply the facts. Life under the IGA is better than life without the IGA. As Senator Patrick Moynihan of the U.S. said, “everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts”.
The committee is likely going to be aware of rather jingoistic hyperbolic rhetoric admonishing Finance for ceding Canadian power, ceding sovereignty, and also encouraging Canada to stand up to FATCA. As the committee hears such comments, we encourage it to remember that FATCA is U.S. law, and the way it’s designed, it’s enforced not by the IRS, not by the Treasury, but by the markets themselves. In that, it is like a sales tax. The withholding obligation is on the person making the payments.
While the IGA is unquestionably beneficial to Canadians, the legislation before you requires refinement, specifically in the manner in which a financial institution is defined under the legislation. The definition is actually much more narrow in the legislation than in the IGA, the intergovernmental agreement.
The Department of Finance disagrees with that assertion. The Department of Finance believes that the definition of financial institution under the legislation is consistent with that in the IGA. However, in our briefs and in our submissions to Finance, we go through the legal analysis to support our position.
One thing I believe the Department of Finance does not disagree on is that the definition of financial institution is more narrow in the regulations and the implementing legislation of other FATCA partners. Therefore, the definition of financial institution for certain Canadian financial institutions will be different under Canadian domestic law from what it will be under U.S. domestic law, for example.
This difference will likely lead to unintended and unnecessary withholding of certain Canadian trusts that otherwise have no U.S. connections at all, for example, a spousal trust created at death, where the spouse, the beneficiaries, and the trustees have no U.S. connections whatsoever, and the only connection would be a U.S. bank account.
In that case, under Canadian domestic law, that trust would be defined as a non-financial foreign entity, whereas in the U.S., it will be defined as a foreign financial institution. Payments coming out of the U.S. to that Canadian trust will be subject to withholding, because under U.S. law, when there’s a discordance between the stated classification of the entity and the classification of the entity under U.S. law, there is mandatory withholding.
*What follows is Part 5 of Canada’s Bill C-31 – The Canada–United States Enhanced Tax Information Exchange Agreement Implementation Act – the Bill which is the enabling legislation to implement the Canada U.S. FATCA IGA – signed by the Harper Government.