Speculation tax court battle may be brewing

Former forester says property tax brings income tax into disrepute

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A Vancouver Island man who disputed government collection of personal information for B.C.’s speculation tax says he’d like a judicial review of the privacy commissioner’s approval of that collection.

B.C.’s Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner ruled last week the Ministry of Finance can collect, use and disclose taxpayers’ personal information under the Speculation and Vacancy Tax Act (SVTA).

Commissioner’s office adjudicator Erika Syrotuck ruled she was satisfied the property owner’s name, address, date of birth, social insurance number (SIN) and email address relate to and are necessary for the program of administering the tax.

It was concerns about the tax and its privacy implications that led the commissioner’s office to open an inquiry into whether or not the ministry had exceeded its authority by collecting SINs, as well as letters of concern about collection, use and disclosure of names, addresses, dates of birth and email addresses.

Among the complainants was Metchosin’s Mark Atherton.

The retired forester disagrees with a lot of the commissioner’s findings and he’d like to challenge them further.

“I’m not going to put up the money, and I have no legal expertise,” Atherton said.

“They’re asking a great majority of the population to serve as crowd sourcing for data for political purposes,” Atherton said. “I don’t like it.”

He said that collection impacts 1.6 million property owners who could own property alone or jointly.

And, he said, there was a power imbalance between the complainants and the government with its lawyers. If he gets to a judicial review, it’s an imbalance Atherton doesn’t want to experience again.

He maintains the SVTA legislation poorly defines what is needed for administration of the tax.

“They just delegated an administrator to collect whatever he bloody well felt necessary,” he said

At issue in the commissioner’s ruling was whether or not the tax is a program of the government as defined under B.C.’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA).

Syrotuck found the speculation tax is a program as it is an organized implementation of a law passed by the legislature.

Syrotuck agreed with the ministry that the absence of a SIN is valuable because it identifies that a person does not pay taxes in Canada.

The ministry argued SINs are collected to verify other incomes and is subject to the FIPPA, Syrotuck deciding the province is not required to get federal approval to use SINs.

Atherton, however, argues the there are no agreements for the province to use the federal individual identification number.

Further, he wants to know why the province thinks it can look at incomes.

“I always thought income tax returns were confidential,” Atherton said. “They’re using it for an inappropriate purpose and violating our privacy rights.”

Syrotuck also found that property owners’ names and addresses relate directly to the tax’s administration.

Further, Syrotuck found, B.C. can share information collected with the Canada Revenue Agency under information sharing agreements.

NDP Finance Minister Carole James announced the tax last year to free up rental properties and to put a greater tax burden on those who use social welfare systems but do not pay much income tax.

She said 99.8% of British Columbians are exempt from the tax.

Atherton also questions why all of those exempt from the tax would need to supply their information for the tax to work.

“It is an abuse of power to force 99% of property owners into a forced, crowd-sourcing arrangement under threat of financial penalty to meet British Columbia’s policy objectives,” Atherton said in his submission to the commissioner.

Those affected by the tax are in the Victoria ($3,743,000), Central Okanagan ($2,964,000), Fraser Valley ($661,000), Metro Vancouver ($50,084,000) and Nanaimo areas ($621,000).

The average assessed home value of properties subject to the tax is $1.45 million while the average assessed value of properties exempt from the tax in the taxable areas is $1.1 million, ministry data said.

jhainsworth@glaciermedia.ca

@jhainswo