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Taxpayers DO have the right to remain silent

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A taxpayer-friendly unanimous Federal Court of Appeal ruling came out this week in MNR v Cameco [2019 FCA 67]. At issue was whether or not the Minister (through the CRA) has the authority to compel oral answers to oral questions from taxpayers or their employees.

In his ruling, Justice of Appeal Rennie stated “…the Minister does not have the power to compel a taxpayer to answer questions at the audit stage…”, however, it may be in the best interest of the taxpayer to provide reasonable answers to reasonable questions in order to expedite the process. The full entire ruling can be found and read here

This ruling simply re-confirms, that even in an audit, you (and your staff) have the right to remain silent, and that the Minister’s powers are limited to physical evidence.

An exception to this is you are required to provide assistance in locating and providing that physical evidence, which may need to be orally.

Personally, when dealing with a very large number of taxpayers on our own office, we want to be certain that the file that the CRA is talking about is the same file in front of us. As such, we are a firm believer in the Canadian Home Builders’ Association motto that is ironically supported by the Government of Canada: “Get it in Writing.”

I am not advocating answering no questions, as the Minister (CRA) still has the ability to issue reassessments, thereby shifting burden of proof to the taxpayer further to disprove the reassessment.

I am, however, advocating at a minimum to get those questions detailed, and in writing. This will help to provide clarity and allow for proper thought in your answers as opposed to stating something with unintended consequences.

Here is a little example of what happens when you don’t get it in writing: in my dark-side days as a field auditor with the (then called) CCRA, we used to ask prying questions that the taxpayer had no idea they were answering.

For example, in one particular circumstance I was reviewing a file where it was suggested that the taxpayer was doing under-the-table cash jobs. This meant I would have to be creative in figuring out the taxpayer’s cost of living, and ruling out other sources of income.

Meeting in a quiet restaurant in a small Saskatchewan town, I was eventually able to have the taxpayer relaxed enough to think that we were having a normal conversation. Just a couple of ‘Riders fans that aren’t a fan of Ottawa, but hey, I have a job to do. When the taxpayer started complaining about the government, I joined in:

“Hey, I hear you. I’m not some suit from Ottawa. I’m from Regina. I mean both the feds and the province already get enough out of me from tax on my smokes.”

I don’t smoke.

The taxpayer didn’t know that, but the anger was timely because the province had just raised up the cigarette tax the previous year so packs were well over $6 a pack.

“Yeah I know”, the taxpayer said, “I smoke a pack a day”.

Music to my ears as a tax auditor, the taxpayer just told me that they need ($6 x 365) = $2,190 of after-tax income just to feed their cigarette habit.

I continued, “That’s terrible! Between getting our money on that, and getting it at the casino, it’s just crazy how much they make it hard to enjoy our weekends.”

“Yeah, I don’t win nuthin’ at the casino either,” the taxpayer stated.

To me I heard ‘I didn’t have any non-taxable casino winnings. In fact, the taxpayer likely had lost money in the year. This means the taxpayer needed to have more disposable income to gamble.’

The conversation continued for a good 30 minutes. Once I was armed with more knowledge of the taxpayer’s lifestyle and spending habits, I went to work. Bank statements, receipts, mileage information, fuel costs, type of vehicle, etc.

We would use information tools not only from Statistics Canada for price of fuel in different regions, we would also use websites like www.fueleconomy.gov that provide different estimated fuel consumption based on type of use and mileage going back to cars from the 1980s. Then we work backwards to see if the numbers made sense with respect to the taxpayer’s vehicle and costs.

When it was all said and done, I used the results of our conversation against the taxpayer. When I was finished, I found over $30,000 in an income variance between the taxpayer’s living costs and change in net worth compared to what was reported. Not only that, but the taxpayer had already backed themselves into a corner because of the questions that were answered which I had documented.

My guess is that in conclusion, the taxpayer thought they should have got the questions in writing instead of meeting me at a restaurant.


Cory G. Litzenberger, CPA, CMA, CFP, C.Mgr is the President & Founder of CGL Strategic Business & Tax Advisors; you can find out more about Cory’s biography at http://www.CGLtax.ca/Litzenberger-Cory.html

CEO | Director, Canadian Tax Advisory CGL Strategic Business & Tax Advisors With the Income Tax Act always by his side on his smart-phone, Cory has taken tax-nerd to a whole other level. His background in strategic planning, tax-efficient corporate reorganizations, business management, and financial planning bring a well-rounded approach to assist private corporations and their owners increase their wealth through the strategies that work best for them. An entrepreneur himself, Cory started CGL with the idea that he wanted to help clients adapt to the ever-changing tax and economic environment and increase their wealth through optimizing the use of tax legislation coupled with strategic business planning and financial analysis. His relaxed blue-collar approach in a traditionally white-collar industry can raise a few eyebrows, but in his own words: “People don’t pay me for my looks. My modeling career ended at birth.” More info: https://www.CGLtax.ca/Litzenberger-Cory.html

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Environment

Bjorn Lomborg shows how social media censors forgot to include the facts in their fact check

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From lomborg.com

Dr. Bjorn Lomborg is president of the Copenhagen Consensus Center, and visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. The Copenhagen Consensus Center is a think-tank that researches the smartest ways to do good. For this work, Lomborg was named one of TIME magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world. His numerous books include “False Alarm: How Climate Change Panic Costs Us Trillions, Hurts the Poor, and Fails to Fix the Planet”, “The Skeptical Environmentalist”, “Cool It”, “How to Spend $75 Billion to Make the World a Better Place”, “The Nobel Laureates’ Guide to the Smartest Targets for the World 2016-2030” and “Prioritizing Development: A Cost Benefit Analysis of the UN’s SDGs”.

The heresy of heat and cold deaths

A group of campaign researchers try hilariously, ineptly — and depressingly —to suppress facts

TL;DR. A blog, claiming to check facts, does not like that I cite this fact: the rising temperatures in the past two decades have caused more heat deaths, but at the same time avoided even more cold deaths. Since this inconvenient fact is true, they ignore to check it.  Instead, they fabricate an absurd quote, which is contradicted in the very article they claim to ‘fact-check’.

166,000 avoided deaths

Cold deaths vastly outweigh heat deaths. This is common knowledge in the academic literature and for instance the Lancet finds that each year, almost 600,000 people die globally from heat but 4.5 million from cold.

Moreover, when the researchers include increasing temperatures of 0.26°C/decade (0.47°F/decade), they find heat deaths increase, but cold deaths decrease more than twice as much:

Or here from the article:

The total impact of more than 116,000 more heat deaths each year and almost 283,000 fewer cold deaths year is that by now, the temperature rise since 2000 means that for temperature-related mortality we are seeing 166,000 fewer deaths each year.

Climate Feedback

However, this is obviously heretical information, so the self-appointed blog, Climate Feedback, wants it purged. Now, if they were just green campaigning academics writing on the internet, that might not matter much. But unfortunately, this group has gained the opportunity to censor information on Facebook, so I have to spend some time showing you their inept, often hilarious, and mostly nefarious arguments. The group regularly makes these sorts of bad-faith arguments, and apparently appealing their Facebook inditements simply goes back to the same group. It is rarely swayed by any argument.

They never test the claim

Climate Feedback seemingly wants to test my central claim from the Lancet article that global warming now saves 166,000 people each year, from my oped in New York Post:

But notice what is happening right after the quote “Global warming saves 166,000 lives each year”. They append it with something that is not in the New York Post. You have to read much further to realize that they are actually trying — and failing — to paste in an entirely separate Facebook post, which addressed a different scientific article.

It turns out, Climate Feedback never addresses the 166,000 people saved in their main text. “166” only occurs three times in the article: twice stating my claim and once after their main text in a diatribe by an ocean-physics professor, complete with personal insults. In it, the professor doesn’t contest the 166,000 avoided deaths. Instead, he falsely claims that I am presenting the 166,000 as the overall mortality impact of climate change, which is absurd: anyone reading my piece understand that I’m talking about the impact of temperature-related mortality.

Perhaps most tellingly, Climate Feedback has asked one of the co-authors of the 166,000 Lancet study (as they also very proudly declare in their text). And this professor, Antonio Gasparrini, does not only not challenge but doesn’t even discuss my analysis of the 166,000 avoided deaths.

Climate Feedback not only doesn’t present any reasonable argument against the 166,000 avoided deaths. It has actually asked one of the main authors of the study to comment and they have nothing.

In conclusion, Climate Feedback simply has no good arguments against the 166,000 people saved, and yet they pillory my work publicly in an attempt to censor data they deem inconvenient. . That academics play along in this charade of an inquisition dressed up ‘fact-check’ is despicable.

Rest of Climate Feedback’s claim is ludicrously wrong

So, beyond the claim of 166,000, Climate Feedback is alleging that I say the following: “those claiming that climate change is causing heat-related deaths are wrong because they ignore that the population is growing and becoming older.”

This is a fabricated quote. I never say this. Climate Feedback has simply made up a false statement, dressing it as a quote of mine, even though I never claimed anything like this. This is incredibly deceptive: it is ludicrous to insist that I should argue that it is wrong to claim “climate change is causing heat-related deaths.” I simply do not argue that “climate change is not causing heat-related deaths”

Up above I exactly argued that climate change causes more heat deaths. My graph shows that climate change causes more heat deaths.

And I even point out exactly that the temperature increases cause heat deaths in my New York Post piece:

“As temperatures have increased over the past two decades, that has caused an extra 116,000 heat deaths each year.” Sorry, Climate Feedback, but the rest of your claim is straight-out, full-on stupid.

Evaluation of Climate Feedback’s review

So Climate Feedback is simply wrong in asserting that I somehow say climate change is not causing heat-related deaths — because I do say that, even in my New York Post article:

Climate Feedback doesn’t show anywhere in their main text how the 166,000 avoided deaths are wrong. They even ask one of the main authors of the study, and that professor says nothing.

Conclusion

Climate Feedback’s deceptive hit job is long on innuendo and bad arguments (see a few, further examples below). But the proof really is in the pudding.

They make two central arguments. First, that my claim of “Global warming saves 166,000 lives each year” is incorrect. Yet, they never address this in their main text. And while they get information from one of the main authors of the Lancet study that is the basis for the 166,000 lives saved, they get no criticism of the argument.

Second, they assert that I somehow say that it is wrong to claim climate change is causing more heat-related deaths, which is just ludicrous because I make that very point, even in my New York Post article:

Verdict: Climate Feedback is fundamentally wrong in both their two main claims.

Additional point: It really shouldn’t be necessary to say, but you can’t make a ‘fact-check’ page, write page after page of diatribe, ignore the first main point and bungle the other main point, and then hope at the end nobody notices, and call my arguments wrong. Or, at least, you shouldn’t be able to get away with such nonsense.

Two examples of the inadequate arguments in the rest of Climatefeedback

Lomborg doesn’t have a time machine

Climate Feedback asks professor Gasparrini, co-author of the Lancet study above. He doesn’t cover anything on the 166,000 deaths avoided. Instead, his text entirely discusses a 2016 WSJ article where I used his 2015-article but he criticizes me for not citing his 2017 article:

The reason I didn’t cite his 2017-article is of course that I didn’t have access to a time machine when I wrote my article in 2016.

Indeed, I have corresponded with Professor Gasparrini several times later about his 2017-article. And yes, his 2017-study indeed shows that at very high emissions, additional heat deaths will likely outweigh avoided cold deaths towards the end of the century. But his study also shows that all regions see additional heat deaths vastly exceeded by extra avoided cold deaths from the 1990s to the 2010s — the exact point I’ve made here.

Serious academics take into account population growth and aging

In a refreshing comment, Climate Feedback asks Philip Staddon, Principal Lecturer in Environment and Sustainability from the University of Gloucestershire to chime in. He says, that I’m wrong to criticize the lack of standardization from population growth and aging, because clearly “all serious academic research already takes account of population growth, demographics and ageing”:

I, of course, entirely agree with Staddon, that all serious academic research should do that. But the research that I have criticized has exactly not done so, resulting in unsupported claims. So, for instance, in the Facebook post that Climate Feedback discusses, I show how CNN believes that a study shows a 74% increase caused by the climate crisis:

This is based on not adjusting for population and age, and is actually from the press release of the paper (and in table S6 in the paper).

Likewise, Staddon might have noticed that a very high-profile editorial in the world’s top medical journals made that very amateurish mistake. They argue that temperature increases over the past 20 years have increased deaths among people 65 and older:

But they cite numbers that are not adjusted for age or population — indeed the world’s population of people above age 65 has increased almost as much:

I absolutely agree with Principal Lecturer Philip Staddon on the necessity of making sure that good arguments in the public sphere are adjusted for population and aging before blaming climate. Unfortunately, they often aren’t

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COVID-19

Ethics prof at one of Canada’s oldest universities on temporary paid leave for stance against forced vaccinations

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Huron University in London, Ontario, was incorporated way back in 1863 as one of the founding colleges of Western University.  Western is one of the largest universities in Canada.

On the University’s website under academic objectives, Huron University strongly encourages “critical thinking through excellent teaching and research”.  But it appears critical thinking may have landed a university ethics professor in a career ending dilemma. Dr. Julie Ponesse has been teaching Ethics at Huron for 20 years.  Dr. Ponesse says the University of Western Ontario has barred her from campus and put her on temporary paid leave for taking an ethical stance against the University’s vaccine policy.

Here is the first measure of that policy as highlighted on the University website.

  • Mandatory Vaccination on Campus: Huron and its affiliate partners are implementing a vaccination policy which will require proof of vaccination or have an exemption in order to come on campus, including living in residence. Those with an exemption must be tested for COVID-19 twice weekly. There is no testing option for those who choose not to be vaccinated. Those without proof of vaccination or an exemption will not be permitted on campus.

Professor Ponesse says just a few days before the school year began, she was mandated by her employers to take the vaccine immediately.  As an Ethics educator she decided it was her job to teach her students it’s ethically wrong to force people to take a vaccine.  Instead of lining up for the jab, Dr. Ponesse went to her office and recorded a video which has now been seen across Canada tens of thousands of times.  At the end of the video a statement appears indicating Professor Julie Ponesse was dismissed by her employers on September 7.

The video is being shared and commented on by Canadians from coast to coast, in various social media platforms.  It’s a fascinating discussion on ethics in a terribly confusing and controversial time, by an experienced ethics professor who has courageously put her ethics ahead of her career.

The video has been taken down by both Facebook and Twitter for statements Ponesse makes about the effectiveness of vaccines.  This video was reloaded to Facebook.  Supporters of Dr. Ponesse have also posted it to Instagram.  We’ve posted two links in case one is taken down yet again.

 

 

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