Privacy & Access to Information Acts

Discover what the CRA knows about you!

Isn’t their some Act of Parliament that allows Canadians to request information about our government, bureaucracy or about any personal information they have collected about us?
 
Yes, there is. In fact there are two such Acts, the Privacy Act and the Access to Information Act.
 
The Privacy Act can be used to learn what personal information any government department or agency has collected about you.
 
The Access to Information Act is used when the requestor wishes to learn about some aspect of our government or bureaucracy such as policies, regulations or statistics.
 
In theory these two Acts give Canadians the right to see it all but in actual practice they often are of little use other than as a means to employ some more civil servants.
 
At least that is my personal experience.
 
When making your request under either of these acts you must supply your full name, address, date of birth, and social insurance number.
 
But to be perfectly honest the CRA makes a concerted effort not to comply with any request made under these Access Acts.
 
If you were to ask for copies of your personal information collected by Revenue Canada the tax collector will black out (with an ordinary black marker) much of the data leaving you with as little information as possible. Imagine that, your very own personal information can be read by the tax collector but is held sacrosanct from little old you.
 
To request tax information you can contact your local TSO however, more often than not, the tax collector will refuse your request. When they do for the cost of five dollars you can make a written inquiry to the CRA.
 
For public information use the Access to Information Act and the form found at Access to Information Request Form .
 
To access your personal information use the Privacy Act and the form found at Privacy Act Request Form.
 
Send your completed form to: Director, ATIP Directorate, Canada Revenue Agency, 45 Rideau ST, 6th Floor, Ottawa ON, K1A 0L5.
 
When you make your request it is best to send the letter registered or the tax collector may ‘lose’ it.
No doubt many will scoff at this statement.
 
But in the court case of Her Majesty the Queen and Dial Drug Stores Limited and Ronald Cowell, January 18, 2001 in the Ontario Court of Justice the judge concluded, among other things, the following:

  • Revenue Canada’s privacy policy is a ruse to prevent disclosure. Their attitude is to prevent, deny and delay access.
  • The department modifies any disclosures not for the purposes of protecting Canadian taxpayers but to suit their own ends. They have no authority to do this.
  • The court was startled by Revenue Canada’s lack of compliance with subpoenas issued by the court. The department acted as if they were above the law.
  • Revenue Canada has a complete disregard for the rights of Canadian taxpayers and the department’s own policies.

Now, in theory you may request from Revenue Canada anything you wish about your personal tax matters, including the tax collector’s diary entries about you, and you may if you are quite lucky receive copies and a response. With one notable exception. That being any auditor’s notes stored in your tax return.
 
The auditor’s notes are the notes an auditor makes when examining and altering your tax return. If you have ever been subjected to an audit, reassessment or arbitrary assessment the auditor’s written notes, the basis for the assessment or reassessment are stored in your tax return.
 
If you were to request a copy of your tax return the auditor’s notes will be removed. If you specifically ask for the auditor’s notes you will be told they were misplaced or destroyed. The tax collector refuses all requests to release these notes. It’s startling when you think about it. Revenue Canada will protect your information from you but does little to protect you from those that use your personal and confidential information for their own gain.
 
And should you request CRA statistics, be prepared to obtain nothing at all.
 
As an example, a request to the Canada Revenue Agency to supply numbers on how many write-offs they prepare each year, how many garnishments they send in a year, how many writs they issue in a year, how many jeopardy assessments they invoke in a year, how many Requirements for Information they request in a year was made as well as the dollar amounts collected via these means where applicable.
 
In response, the Canada Revenue Agency claimed that tax collector does not keep these types of statistics. But if desired, they would write a computer program at the requestor’s expense (at a cost of several thousands of dollars) but that they would not guarantee that answers to the questions would result.
 
Strangely enough however the Justice Department does keep statistics in one of these areas, Jeopardy Assessments. But imagine, having to go to one federal department in order to obtain information on another. Is it any wonder that Revenue Canada is, annually, one of the most complained about institutions in respect of compliance under the two Acts as confirmed by the Information Commissioner? Maybe that’s why they keep changing their name.
 
What you need to know
 
What you need to know is how to apply to the Canada Revenue Agency under the Privacy Act to obtain your personal information or, under the Access to Information Act, to obtain information on policies, procedures and statistics.
 
For up to date information on Canada’s Information Commissioner including telling reports on Revenue Canada’s or other government departments and agencies failure to comply with the legal requests of Canadians (like yourself) visit their Internet site at:Information Commissioner Database Search type in the name of the government department you wish to research in the ‘keywords box’ and you will get a list of annual reports to review.
 
When making your request under either of these Acts, although this should not be necessary, make sure you carbon copy (CC) your legal representative on your request.
Why should you do this?
 
Many government departments and agencies, including Revenue Canada, attempt to subvert the Act’s and law’s intent by responding in a formulaic way. They will acknowledge that they have received your request without ever actually acting upon it. As my letter from the Information Commissioner confirms. This is most often done when the letter writers are ordinary Canadians who are unknown for their litigiousness.
 
However, if the department or agency feels that there is a threat that you will go to Court then you will receive a proper answer. Most journalists and media organizations use this method, CC’ing their legal counsel, to ensure that they receive a response to their query, responses that us ordinary folk are unlikely to receive. That is why I advise you to use this method as well. Even if you do not intend to use your lawyer the tax collector does not know this so they must take your request seriously.
 
And don’t forget to ask for the diary entries on your tax account or try to obtain your Audit Notes if applicable.
You should also consider asking for any dockets that might be in existence. A docket is a large file folder that contains hand written notes, copies of correspondence and any other intrigues that relate to your tax matters. Each section compiles its own docket on your affairs so you will have to specifically ask for the contents of your Collections docket, your Appeals docket, you Special Investigations docket and so on.
 
I would also suggest asking for a copy of Taxation Operations Manual Twenty-two or TOM 22.
 
Specifically you should ask for TOM 2250 – Legal Collection Activities, TOM 2260 – Acts Affecting Collections, TOM 2270 – Uncollectible Debts and TOM 22(11)0 Automated Collections and Source Deductions Enforcement System (ACSES).
If the Goods and Services Tax is your thing you should request the GST Policies and Procedures Manual for Tax Collectors.
 
For the complete list of all the Taxation Operation Manuals of the Canada Revenue Agency (166 in all at the time of this writing) reference Appendix D at the end of this book.
 
Now you will never need them all as some deal with very mundane topics such as Keying Instructions, Data Entry and Staffing but depending on your area of concern I would also recommend attempting to obtain all the TOM’s from the Appeals Branch, Audit Techniques, Special Investigations and Tax Avoidance TOM’s from the Audit Branch as well as all TOM’s from the Policy and Legislation Branch. Again though it depends on where your area of concern lies so, for instance, if you have a problem obtaining information under the Privacy or the Access to Information Acts you would want the ‘Release of Information’ TOM or, if you have an ongoing appeal, you might select the Appeals Officer – Taxation TOM.
 
Select the TOM specific to your problem.
 
Although more than a touch dry these manuals will tell you much about the policies and procedures that guide tax collection. By learning how the CRA and the tax collector operate you can better arrange your affairs. Forewarned is forearmed.
 
The tax collector has full access to all of your most personal and confidential information and sure, some tax collectors respect their position of trust and treat your personal information as gold. But just as many tax collectors treat your most personal and confidential information as a stepping stone towards obtaining some of that gold for themselves.
 
The time has come when the CRA must not only obey the laws in respect of answering Canadian’s queries but must also protect your personal information and confidentialities with more then just lip service.
 
 
Courtesy of the Tax Collector’s Bible The Tax Collector’s Bible