Wednesday, November 14, 2001
Haydon pays dearly for opposing 'bullying' by Revenue CanadaDave Brown
The Ottawa Citizen
Former regional chairman Andy Haydon had his day in court yesterday, claiming he was being harassed by Revenue Canada, which has challenged six of his tax returns in less than 10 years because, he said, he challenged the federal tax collector's bullying legal tactics.
Mr. Haydon isn't a tall man, and he appeared much smaller standing in the Federal Appeal Court at the Supreme Court Building, with its 10-metre ceilings and empty seats. For one full hour he presented a case that wasn't based on law so much as an appeal for reason. The tribunal of judges in turn interrupted the presentation, but Mr. Haydon is no stranger to debate and pushed on.
He claimed his troubles started in 1989 when he put aside too much money in a Registered Retirement Savings Plan. "Overpayment of an RRSP isn't something one does deliberately. There are better things to do with your money." When the overpayment was brought to his attention, he made a trip to Revenue Canada offices to ask how he could correct the error and get his money back. He got instructions in writing.
Those instructions were incomplete, and as a result he ran into a penalty that amounted to, in his words, "a tax on a tax." With only about $3,000 involved, he decided to represent himself. He soon found himself responding to motions filed by Justice Department lawyers representing Revenue Canada. "I always filed and counterfiled on time. They, the professionals, were always late."
The filing of such motions, he said, is how lawyers run up the bills and have little purpose. The average person can't afford to hire lawyers to get into counterfiling competitions with lawyers paid from the public purse. He refused to pay the assessed penalties and his annual tax returns were assessed. He won those challenges but sometimes "they were reassessing the reassessments." His Old Age Pension was attached and he had to do more legal work to kick that loose. Two years ago, when Mr. Haydon and his wife, Mary, sold their home, the deal was frozen by a Revenue Canada claim that they owed $30,000 GST on the sale.
The Haydons went public with that one and told the story to this newspaper. Revenue Canada publicly apologized and backed off on that claim.
"I was offered a deal (on the RRSP issue) that if I would go away, they (Revenue lawyers) would drop the issue," he told the appeal court. In effect, he said, he was told to take what amounted to a minor loss, or risk losing a lot.
It's about justice and fair play, he said. It isn't about crossing all the Ts. It's about doing the right thing. "If I am in violation of tax law it's because I followed the instructions of Revenue Canada. ... I know ignorance of the law is not a defence, but if you are getting advice from the people who administer a law, how can you be blamed?
"If there were a jury in this room, I know it would agree."
About that point the tribunal chief, Justice Arthur Stone, said something that gave Mr. Haydon a deep chill: "The court cannot be both right and wrong. It cannot change the law."
Mr. Haydon argued that no citizen should be penalized for following instructions from employees of the government. He quoted U.S. President George W. Bush and British wartime leader Winston Churchill. He even referred to the war crimes trials at Nuremberg. He was so sure of his case that he told the tribunal he would seek punitive damages.
Through it all, Justice Department lawyer Paul Plourde sat silently. Mr. Haydon had a table filled with fluorescent file folders and stacks of organized notes and correspondence. Mr. Plourde had only a fraction of that much paperwork. Mr. Haydon was the only person inside the court bar who wasn't gowned.
Judge Stone ordered a 15-minute break and returned with a one-line judgment. "We are not convinced and the appeal is dismissed with costs." Mr. Plourde never had to say a word. He won. The people in gowns quickly exited, and Mr. Haydon slumped at the counsel table. He is not yet sure what the costs will be.
"This could wipe me out. If they pad the bill, this could bankrupt me."
Dave Brown is the Citizen's senior editor. Send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org Read previous columns at www.ottawacitizen.com
© Copyright 2001 The Ottawa Citizen