By Brodie Thomas
Transcontinental Media/The Gulf News
A group of fishers who feel they were wrongly overtaxed on their 1999 fish licence buyout are waiting to hear if their case will be quashed by a federal court.
St. John’s lawyer Eli Baker says the Crown is attempting to have the case thrown out on procedural grounds.
Crown lawyer John J. Ashley argued that because each fisher had a separate tax return, and because no legal decisions were made in regards to their group, the Atlantic Ground Fishermen’s Licence Retirement Program cannot represent over 700 individuals as a single entity. “If you look at the rule that allows one person to go in and represent a bunch of other people as well, we’re simply saying that the requirements of that rule haven’t been met and the matter shouldn’t proceed.” said Ashley.
The Crown also argued there were procedural problems, specifically errors in page numbering, which are grounds to dismiss the case.
Baker’s defence to the first matter is that the 700-plus fishers received the exact same form letter from Revenue Canada, where only the name of the fisher had been changed in regards to this matter.
Baker said Revenue Canada is clearly treating these people as a single group on this one matter, and therefore they should be able to stand as a single group before the court.
He said there are also other examples of clearly defined community, aboriginal and interest groups who have formed associations for legal reasons. He noted the Canadian Sealers Association as one example.
Baker also claims the Crown’s attempt to have these cases heard on an individual basis would flood the court system and would further delay a ruling. “It would be the fishermen’s grandchildren arguing the case if it was done one case at a time. It would take so much time it’s prohibitive,” said Baker.
As for the page numbering errors, he admits there were problems although none that a reasonable person could not overcome by looking at the next page.
Baker said there were literally filing cabinets of paperwork that had to be processed in this matter. He said there is a principle in law that minor matters of forum should not get in the way of good law.
Baker said the fishers are not asking this court for money, but rather the right to appeal their decision to Revenue Canada. He feels this decision, whenever it comes could be a turning point in the case. “It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that a settlement might be offered,” said Baker.
The roughly 700 fishers who make up the Atlantic Ground Fishermen’s Licence Retirement Program accepted a 1999 buyout package and were advised by Revenue Canada through a letter sent by DFO that they had to claim their buyout money as capital gains. Fishers who accepted buyouts prior to and after 1999 were not taxed in the same way.
The fishers who claimed their buyout money as a capital gain lost roughly half of their payment.
A small group of fishers who accepted 1999 buyouts already challenged Revenue Canada on the way they were taxed and the matter was settled out of court.
By Brodie Thomas