Canadian Offshore Investments Have Risen Ten-Fold Since 1980s
By by Mike Godfrey, Tax-News.com, Washington
10 June 2003
It was revealed this week that a presentation given by Canadian federal tax officials to the Minister of National Revenue Elinor Caplan some months ago showed that Canadian citizens are investing ten times more money in low tax jurisdictions than they were in the late 1980's.
The Canada Customs and Revenue Agency's presentation, entitled 'Tax Havens, An Evolving Taxation Issue' and shown to government ministers last November, claimed that the total amount invested offshore stood at $44.6 billion in 2001, against a figure of $4.5 billion in 1988, according to the Globe and Mail.
Whilst a spokeswoman for the revenue agency was prepared to accept that the majority of Canadian taxpayers are investing offshore for entirely innocent purposes, tax officials are worried that it is difficult to police such a large volume of such transactions, and fear that not all income from overseas investments is being reported to the domestic tax authorities.
"Whenever there is any kind of tax that's not being paid, it's a serious issue. It's not the offshore transaction itself that's the matter. It's the fact that you are taxable on your worldwide income," spokeswoman Colette Gentes-Hawn told the Globe and Mail, adding: "So you may have all kinds of wonderful reasons to put your money offshore even if it's only to hide it from a spouse or a creditor or whatever, and that's fine as long as you report the income from that money."
Of particular concern to the CCRA is the growth of internet banking, a method that it says many Canadians have chosen to use to transfer funds offshore in recent years. The consequent lack of a clear audit trail in internet transactions is making it harder for tax officials to discover whether the appropriate laws have been complied with.
Also, concern is growing over the rise of consultancy firms that market and promote investment schemes in low tax jurisdictions, a phenonemon that the revenue agency says is also making its life more difficult.
It was highlighted at the presentation that a disproportionately high number of Canadians are investing in certain offshore centers, compared to investments held in the United States, Canada's nearest and largest trading partner.
However, to Walter Robinson of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, this comes as no great surprise. "People say, 'Why would I pay an extra $10,000 when the government is going to [waste it] and not fund health care or build highways or give me better schools?'" he explained.
According to the revenue agency's figures, one of the largest beneficiaries of Canadian money was Barbados, which has seen a rise from $628 million in 1988 to $23.3 billion in 2001. Other popular choices were the Cayman Islands ($234 million in 1988 and $5.5 billion in 2001) and Panama ($14 million in 1988 against $230 million in 2001).