Vol. 78, No. 2Just the facts

Paper money boat.

Tax evasion

Since nearly 3,000 BC, taxation has been an integral part of civilization. Ancient Egyptian pharaohs would collect their dues in the form of labour, and medieval kings in the form of agricultural produce. Since then, reluctant taxpayers have found ways to avoid and evade paying their taxes. Usually punishable by law, tax evasion is estimated to cost governments worldwide billions of dollars in unpaid revenue.

  • Tax evasion is the act of using illegal means to avoid paying taxes, including underreporting income, inflating deductions or hiding money. This is a crime punishable by law in many countries, including Canada.
  • Tax avoidance, however, is the act of minimizing taxes legally. While practices such as using offshore bank accounts are within the letter of law, they often contradict the object of the law, and many governments are working to stop it.
  • In 2016, the Canadian government invested $444 million to enhance the Canada Revenue Agency's (CRA) ability to detect, audit and prosecute tax evasion. This is expected to bring in $2.6 billion in new tax revenue over the next five years.
  • It's legal for Canadians to hold accounts offshore in other countries for the purposes of estate management or conducting business. But James Henry, an economist and fellow at Columbia University and Yale, says in a Toronto Star article, "Just because it's legal doesn't make it right. Slavery was legal. Child labour was legal. There's no social purpose whatsoever."
  • Canadians have declared $199 billion in offshore tax haven investments around the world, according to Statistics Canada. But, many experts say that figure is a small fraction of the Canadian offshore wealth that goes undeclared, likely resulting in billions of dollars of lost tax revenue.
  • There were 75,836 cases of tax fraud in the U.S in 2014. Of those cases, more than 700 people were sentenced, with a median tax collection of $167,000 per person.
  • The majority of those tax evasion offenders had no criminal history, and averaged 50 years old at the time of sentencing.
  • In the U.S., if you report your company for tax evasion, you can earn 30 per cent of the amount collected as part of the Internal Revenue Service's Whistleblower Informant Award program.
  • According to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in the U.S. 84 per cent of people think it's "not at all" acceptable to cheat on taxes.
  • According to a study published at the University of Wisconsin, up to 19 per cent of income in the U.S. is not reported properly to the IRS, resulting in a loss of approximately $500 billion per year.
  • The same study found that the rate of tax evasion increases with the income tax rate, unemployment rate, per capita GDP and dissatisfaction with the government.
  • Offshore money transfers can have more consequences than lost tax revenue — terrorist financing, money laundering and corruption are other common repercussions.
  • According to the European Commission, an estimated one trillion euros are lost each year due to tax fraud and evasion in the European Union.
  • Mossack Fonesca, a Panama-based law firm, is the latest enterprise in the spotlight for tax evasion. As one of the world's leading incorporators of "shell companies" — fake companies used to transfer or store money — they were often used to help foreigners evade taxes.
  • The recently leaked Panama Papers, which contain thousands of Mossack Fonesca's internal records, revealed a network of more than 200,000 offshore companies tied to people in more than 200 countries. The list includes world leaders, billionaires and celebrities from Britain, the U.S., Iceland and beyond, many of whom are now under investigation for tax evasion.
  • The Organization for Economic Co-ordination and Development established a new global standard on Automatic Exchange of Information (AEOI) that reduces the possibility for tax evasion. The new guidelines come into effect in Canada in 2017, and permit the sharing of financial information of foreign account holders with their home countries.

— Compiled by Amelia Thatcher

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