• Application of GAAR to a Cross-Border Debt “Clean-Up” Transaction: The Pièces Automobiles Lecavalier Inc. Case Lavery, An Overview
  • March 28, 2014 | Author: Éric Gélinas
  • Law Firm: Lavery, de Billy, L.L.P. - Montreal Office
  • The Tax Court of Canada recently rendered a decision dealing with the general antiavoidance rule (“GAAR”) in the context of the elimination of a cross-border debt between Greenleaf Canada Acquisitions Inc. (“Greenleaf”) and Ford US, its American parent company, prior to the sale of Greenleaf’s shares, who owed the debt, to a third party. In the case under review, Ford US subscribed for additional Greenleaf shares and Greenleaf used the proceeds from the subscription to repay its debt to Ford US.

    The purpose of the transactions in question was to avoid the application of section 80 of the Income Tax Act (“ITA”) upon the forgiveness of a portion of the debt. Without the debt repayment, the rules pertaining to debt parking contained in paragraphs 80.01(6) to (8) ITA would have resulted in the application of section 80 ITA in such a way as to reduce Greenleaf’s tax attributes and even add to its income the portion of the “forgiven amount” not being sheltered.

    The Minister of National Revenue (“Minister”) was of the view that GAAR applied to the “clean-up” transaction in such a way that Greenleaf had to realize a capital gain of $15 million on the forgiveness of the debt. Greenleaf’s tax attributes were accordingly reduced and certain adjustments to its taxable income were made pursuant to section 80 ITA.

    ANALYSIS OF THE COURT
    From the outset, the taxpayer acknowledged that the transactions provided it with a tax benefit, namely, the preservation of Greenleaf’s tax attributes through the avoidance of the provisions of section 80 ITA.

    As to whether these transactions constituted “avoidance transactions”, the taxpayer attempted, particularly through the testimony of the accounting expert, to prove that they had been carried out only for US tax and accounting purposes, and that they therefore had bona fide non-tax purposes and did not constitute avoidance transactions. The Court did not rely on this testimony because it constituted hearsay. Furthermore, the Court applied the negative inference doctrine since no representative of Ford US had testified and that the testimonies provided were deemed not to be credible.

    With respect to the issue of abuse, the Court agreed with the Minister’s argument to the effect that the “clean-up” transactions were abusive since they circumvented the purpose and spirit of section 80 ITA: if the debt had not been repaid using the proceeds from the subscription, the rules governing debt parking would have applied and Greenleaf’s tax attributes would have been reduced pursuant to section 80 ITA.

    CONCLUSION
    This decision is particularly important in a context of debt reorganization within a corporate group. The type of transactions discussed in the decision under review is frequently used. Practitioners will have to pay particular attention to the tax impact of such a transaction. When it is possible to do so, it will obviously be preferable to simply convert a debt into shares of the debtor corporation to the extent that paragraph 80(2)(g) ITA is applicable so that no forgiven amount will result from the conversion.