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What If the CRA Makes a Mistake on Your Taxes?

April 3, 2014
4 mins
A man looks upset as he reviews a document

Penelope: 2010 was a tumultuous year to say the least - I uprooted my life in Calgary and made the cross-country trek back to Toronto. Mixed into the fray were countless details - Employment Insurance to be sorted, provincial medical care: the works. Which is why, when I realized my Notice of Assessment still hadn't arrived two years later, I had a sinking feeling. A quick phone to the CRA proved my gut right - I was informed that they had no record of my taxes filed during 2010 or 2011. But I knew this was wrong; I had even used the services of our family accountant. Fast forward to gathering up my tax info (and tracking down a cheque paid to and cashed by the government), and the only recourse is to mail the lot to the CRA for another look. 

It's been a frustrating ordeal to say the least, but my experience inspired the following article by staff writer Andrew Seale - how often does the CRA make a mistake... and what can you do as a taxpayer to clean up the situation?

Taxes: An Imperfect Process

If you’re a last minute tax crammer or flustered by doing your own taxes, sometimes accidents do happen. Slips get lost in the junk mail by the door or receipts from expenses get counted twice.

Errors surrounding taxes are a very human thing – unless you’re talking about the Canada Revenue Agency.

“I’d say rarely does the CRA make a mistake,” says Jamie Golombek, CIBC’s managing director of tax and estate planning. “They do make mistakes but it’s pretty rare that there’s going to be a computational mathematical mistake.”

But what if your unwavering faith in the CRA’s ability to provide an honest assessment of your taxes is put to the test?

Here are the steps you take if you feel like the CRA has made a mistake:

Give the CRA a Ring

After filing your taxes the CRA will send you a notice of assessment. If all is copacetic, you can carry on your merry taxpaying way. However, if you feel their reassessment is contrary to what your calculations show (or it doesn't show up at all) you need to contact the CRA.

“It is possible they don’t see one of your slips,” admits Golombek. “I think these mistakes are easily correctable over the phone.”

Agree to Disagree

Sometimes denied expenses or tax slips that were actually in a spouse’s name can affect your tax return.

“The best thing I find is to try to resolve it informally either by telephone or schedule a meeting with someone,” he adds. “But if that is not the case or they say something and you disagree, like they disallow your moving expenses that you think are valid, then you have legal rights.”

Taking the Legal Approach

At this stage it might be wise to seek out professional tax counsel.

“My general advice before you get involved in all this is to sit down with a tax lawyer for one hour of your time and let them look at the situation,” says Golombek. “Maybe a properly worded letter from the tax professional with the right citations and cases could help you avoid going to court.”

Once you’ve received your assessment you have 90 days to fill out a T400A notice of objection.

“You’re going to get a response from the CRA – either a confirmation that they’re not changing anything or a reason why they disagree with you,” says Golombek.

Once you get the response you have a further 90 days from the day you receive their response to take your notice of objection appeal to the tax court of Canada. The whole process is explained very well here.

Taking a Tax Dispute to Court

In court, you can represent yourself or hire a tax lawyer.

The challenge with going against the CRA, says Golombek, is that you’re facing the law itself as opposed to an interpretation of the law.

“The tax act is black and white,” he says.

Ultimately, if you’re still unhappy with the results in tax court, you can appeal and have your case heard by three independent judges. The next stop is the Supreme Court of Canada, which Golombek says only sees three to four tax cases a year.

“I think a lot of people can avoid a lot of wasted time, inconvenience and frustration if they just get some professional advice up front,” he says. “But you always have a right to your day in court.”

Andrew Seale

Andrew Seale is a freelance writer with an absurdly hyperactive mind and predilection towards the obscure and eclectic. He frequently shares his personal finance experiences and mishaps with TheDot readers but has also been known to profile business leaders ranging from financial savants to bootstrapped entrepreneurs. His work has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Yahoo Canada Finance and News, Profit Magazine, The Toronto Star, Enroute Magazine, and on the back of napkins sometimes tucked into the pockets of strangers. He can be found at

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