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Report On Business Canada Revenue Agency offers deal to CBC to reveal tax cheats

The CBC/Radio-Canada building in Montreal.

GRAHAM HUGHES/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Canada Revenue Agency wants to cut a deal with the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. that would allow the broadcaster to protect its secret sources, but also rat out tax cheats who have money tucked away in offshore accounts.

The CBC is a member of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), a Washington-based group that compiled a list of alleged users of offshore tax havens. As many as 450 Canadians are on the list, but the CBC has only reported on Tony Merchant – a class-action lawyer who is married to Senator Pana Merchant and allegedly moved $2-million to an offshore account while he was feuding with tax authorities.

While Minister of National Revenue Gail Shea threatened legal action against the CBC earlier this week, CRA Commissioner Andrew Treusch issued an open letter Friday asking the broadcaster to reconsider its decision to protect its sources and withhold the information.

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"I understand that the CBC is reluctant to provide this data, citing concerns with journalistic independence and protecting sources," he wrote in a letter to CBC chief executive officer Hubert Lacroix. "I can assure you that the Canada Revenue Agency has not asked for the source of the information and will treat any information you provide with strict confidentiality in the same manner it treats all taxpayer information it receives."

He also appealed to Mr. Lacroix on a personal level, suggesting that it would be in the best interest of the country to share the information with tax authorities.

"I would expect that both the CBC and you, as its president and CEO, have an interest in ensuring that appropriate action is taken if individuals are not respecting their tax obligations," he wrote. "Taking action against individuals who are not respecting their tax obligations is in the best interest of the public and law-abiding Canadians. The provision of the data that your organization has in its possession would allow the CRA to pursue cases where this is occurring without in any way infringing on your journalistic mandate."

The CBC has no intention of sharing the data, spokesman Chuck Thompson said.

"We are in receipt of the letter and will take it under advisement," he said. "In the meantime, our position on the matter remains the same. ... CBC is part of an international consortium and like the other members of the ICIJ, our responsibility is to tell the story. As a journalistic organization and as a matter of journalistic principle, CBC News does not reveal sources nor any background information."

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