The Conservative Party and the NDP are calling on Canada Revenue Agency Commissioner Bob Hamilton to testify before a Parliamentary committee after a massive disclosure of sensitive internal documents revealed numerous allegations of wrongdoing at a CRA division responsible for ensuring multinational companies pay appropriate levels of Canadian tax.
The government documents, which were submitted in a federal court case late last year, reveal the names of several whistleblowers who have made a wide range of allegations from within the agency, as well as the names of senior CRA officials who were subject to internal complaints. The documents also include a 2021 report by an outside team of psychological consultants that found half of the staff in the division said they had been victims of bullying, harassment or intimidation.
The documents suggest that at least some of the tension in the division was owing to a disagreement over the agency’s handling of a specific multimillion-dollar tax agreement reached with a multinational company. The identity of the company in question is repeatedly redacted in the documents.
Some division staff disagreed with the tax agreement because they saw it as a “sweetheart” deal for the company and opposed the way it was approved, the records show. Staff who felt the division was under inappropriate pressure to approve the agreement filed internal complaints.
The documents relate to turmoil inside the CRA’s Competent Authority Services Division, which is part of the agency’s international and large business directorate. The CASD works with international companies that operate in Canada to determine their Canadian tax obligations.
The now-former head of the division, Donna O’Connor, breached hiring rules and failed to set an appropriate leadership tone, according to the findings in a December, 2019, report produced by the CRA’s internal affairs and fraud control division and filed as part of the court case. The CRA report says Ms. O’Connor told a CRA investigator that her “division was corrupt,” but did not elaborate. Ms. O’Connor also said she was trying to clean up bad practices, according to the report.
During a Monday meeting of the House of Commons Finance committee, Conservative MP Dan Albas provided notice of a motion calling on Mr. Hamilton to appear and explain the issues raised in the documents. The committee could vote on the matter as soon as Tuesday.
Mr. Albas told The Globe and Mail after the meeting that the Liberal government frequently boasts it is working hard on the world stage to ensure large companies pay their fair share of tax. But he noted the documents suggest some within the CRA disagree with how such files are handled.
“That’s one of the reasons why I’d like to have the commissioner come before committee, so that he can lay out his case as to what is occurring at CRA under his watch,” Mr. Albas said.
NDP finance critic Daniel Blaikie said he will support the Conservative motion calling for Mr. Hamilton to appear. He noted the CRA has long been accused by critics of doing a poor job of enforcing tax rules for wealthy people and large corporations.
“And so when you couple that with these stories about a broken culture that even people within the CRA are calling corrupt, it is very concerning,” he said.
Liberal and Bloc Québécois MPs did not say Monday whether they would vote for the motion, which would require the support of a majority of MPs on the committee for it to go ahead.
CRA spokesperson Etienne Biram said in a statement Monday that the allegations related to the specific tax deal were reviewed by the CRA’s internal fraud division and a third party expert in tax law.
“While complaints in the Federal Court documents claim a ‘sweetheart deal’ was struck in 2019, the investigation determined that the terms of the [agreement] were in fact favourable to the CRA and did not provide any form of preferential treatment,” Mr. Biram said in an e-mail. He also said allegations that the deal was granted with no analysis and that employees were forced from their positions were all deemed to be unfounded.
Mr. Biram said the CRA takes allegations of misconduct seriously, but he added that it is difficult for the agency to respond to allegations that are before the Federal Court. He also noted that the Federal Court case is about two other allegations that are not related to the tax deal.
The Federal Court case began in September, 2021, when two CRA employees asked the court to review a decision by Public Sector Integrity Commissioner Joe Friday to stop investigating their allegations of wrongdoing at the CRA. The commissioner explained in letters to the employees that he felt his office did not need to investigate because the agency was already dealing with the matter.
Documents related to the commissioner’s investigation, which began in 2020, were submitted to the court, making them publicly available.
The commissioner’s office told The Globe last week that it was approached on April 12 by the Attorney-General, on behalf of the CRA, and made aware that some of the documents contain sensitive information. On April 19, the commissioner’s office wrote to the Federal Court, saying it intended to replace its court filings with new versions of the documents that will redact “irrelevant” third-party information, including the names of people who made allegations and the names of those against whom the allegations were made.
The Conservative Party asked Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien to launch an investigation into the release of “sensitive whistle-blower information” after the website Blacklock’s Reporter wrote about the case last month.
The court documents show the Integrity Commissioner’s office investigated a wide range of allegations put forward by the two CRA employees and determined that some warranted further review and others did not.
In a July 21, 2020 letter from Mr. Friday to one of the employees, the commissioner said he would be investigating some but not all of the allegations. Mr. Friday agreed to investigate concerns over travel expenses in the division and the possibility that it had a “toxic” work environment.
But Mr. Friday’s letter said he would not be investigating an allegation related to the specific tax deal, in part because his office is not authorized to review information that is subject to solicitor-client privilege.
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