Be afraid - very, very afraid. That's the message from tax lawyers Paul and Philippe DioGuardi, who have written a new book called The Taxman Is Watching: What Every Canadian Taxpayer Needs to Know and Fear .
You may recognize the DioGuardis' name from their television commercials, which feature an imposing "taxman" in sunglasses who stalks unsuspecting Canadians to a hummable tune and the words, "You can run, but you can't hide."
The father-and-son team say they hope to disabuse Canadians of the notion that the Canada Revenue Agency is on their side. Armed with horror stories about overzealous tax agents and naive taxpayers (or tax non-payers), they're on a mission to incite what they say is a healthy fear of the taxman.
In an interview at their Toronto office, the DioGuardis explained why the CRA is like a shark and why you should trust lawyers over taxmen.
The message of your book is that Canadians need to fear the Canada Revenue Agency. Why?
Paul DioGuardi: Basically it's a question of branding. They have branded themselves as the people's friend. "Come to us, we'll help you. If you haven't paid your taxes, c'mon in and tell us! You can come in and do this yourself. You don't need a lawyer."
Philippe DioGuardi: They're not Parks Canada. They can do some serious harm to you.
Paul: We often hear from people who say, "Oh Paul, the lady I spoke to at the Canada Revenue Agency was so nice. ... And now I have this devil on my tail, he wants to take our house! What do we do?"
You see, what happens is, the nice lady at the front end has a job. Her job is to get all the information - to position the shark to attack and to take the biggest bite he can take.
Do people really need to be told to fear the taxman? Are
we that naive?
Philippe: Something that comes up a lot with the average person is the "little fish, big fish" argument. People
really believe, because they're little fish, they won't bother with you. They forget that all these little fish together make a hell of a big school of fish, and that's [the CRA's]/p>
A shark bites you why? Because it hates you? Is it going to go away because you offer it a cup of tea and you're nice to it? Sharks bite because they're programmed to.
So you tell people to turn to tax lawyers for help. But you are tax lawyers, so of course you're going to say that.
Philippe: What the CRA is saying is self-serving. ... We're not saying something that puts us in a conflict [of interest] they are. We're not acting in a manner that puts us in a conflict, they are.
Who are you going to trust?
Paul: This book is not a self-promotional book. You won't see us saying, "Come to us." We're talking in a general way and what we're saying is, "Here are the facts, here is what you should do, here is what you should beware of. Be cautious when you're dealing with this predator, okay?"
You discuss in your book how men and women react differently to tax troubles. Why do you think that is?
Paul: Women are more practical and realistic. And also women have the nesting instinct; they want to protect the family nest.
Philippe: There's more of a respect for the law.
Paul: A lot of men are macho, saying, "I'm so smart, I'm never going to get caught." ... Usually the women are smarter. No, I'm serious, the women understand. They drag the husbands or the boyfriends in [to our office]because they realize these dolts don't understand that the government can take everything away and ruin the family.
Looking ahead, in what direction do you think the CRA is going?
Philippe: You notice it seems like taxes are going down, right? The [goods and services tax]has gone down; I think government legitimately wants to bring taxes down, apart from all the political games. ... If your cash flow is going down and you're a government with a lot of bills, where are you going to go get that money? ... You've got to go after the guys that are not paying, not filing.
Paul: I think we're getting into a higher enforcement mode than before. The taxes are going down because we've got to be competitive worldwide. And the people who are not paying are going to get hammered. ... People say, "It can never happen to me." Sure, it can happen to anybody.
Inside scoop on audits
The Canada Revenue Agency chooses people to audit based on statistical anomalies or unusual changes in their returns, an anonymous complaint from someone who suspects cheating, or simply random selection. The DioGuardis offer the following tips:
How to avoid an audit
File your tax returns on time.
Check and double-check the math on your return and don't forget to sign it.
Keep good records.
Report all your income.
Claim only legitimate business expenses. Do not claim personal expenses as business deductions or inflate your expenses.
Don't cheat. The agency is
How to survive an audit
Don't panic. You don't have to stand alone in front of the CRA auditor. Don't be shy about
exercising your right to counsel.
Designate one person to deal with the auditor. This avoids
contradictory answers that may be used to incriminate you later.
Request the auditor's questions in advance. Get them in writing and answer them in writing
before you meet.
Don't justify. It may just give the auditor ideas and lead to matters that are otherwise not on the radar screen.
Manage your files carefully. Don't automatically hand over
sensitive or privileged information.
Don't try to pull a fast one, such as transferring the title of the family home to your spouse. By the time you get the audit
letter, it's too late, and it will only get you in more trouble.
Don't be forced into a meeting until you and your advocate are prepared.
Don't just roll over.
Rebecca Dube Source: The Taxman is Watching: What Every Canadian Taxpayer Needs to Know and Fear