Monica Biringer and Firoz Ahmed on Canada’s changing tax practice — Best Lawyers

Firoz Ahmed

Nov, 30, 2018

In a Q&A interview with Best Lawyers, Monica Biringer and Firoz Ahmed, Co-Chairs of Osler’s Tax Group, discuss a wide range of topics including the impact of technology on the legal landscape as well as policy changes that could impact tax law. In the interview, Best Lawyers CEO Phillip Greer asks Monica and Firoz about what drew them to tax law and notable trends in the tax law sector. Monica says there has been an increasing number of audits by the CRA.

“The phenomenon in Canada echoes what is going on around the world,” Monica tells Best Lawyers. “The Canadian government has dedicated hundreds of millions of dollars to hire additional auditors and specialists to combat what they think of as aggressive tax planning and tax avoidance, and they're quite public about their intention to generate billions of dollars of increased revenues for the government.

“Similarly, the media scrutiny of corporate tax practice is on the rise. We're seeing an increasing number of audits by the CRA, taking aggressive positions both in the avoidance realm and under transfer pricing rules. As a result, there's a continuing and increased demand on tax litigation and tax dispute expertise. Because of the depth of our tax litigation expertise, and our broad range of experts in various aspects of tax law, we're very well positioned to address that trend.”

Asked about important policy changes that are impacting the tax law sector, Firoz explains why the base erosion and profit shifting (BEPS) project is significant.

“For one, there was the BEPS project, where they were concerned that tax agents were being used to avoid or very maturely reduce the tax that was payable with what government authorities believed was the actual income earning activity,” Firoz tells Best Lawyers. “Certainly, aside from transfer pricing, the starting point that will soon come down the road is treaty shock. I think it's affecting the way we're planning today, and I think we've already seen treaty shock in cases that have come through the court system.

“The other issues, I believe, are tax rate changes in various countries including the U.S. Fair cuts on tax rates will certainly increase pressure on people, especially from a non-tax perspective where people carry on their operations to try to get the best tax result. As far as Canadian tax policy goes, it's a bunch of anti-avoidance rules that are aimed at closing loopholes or perceived loopholes with rules that are generally too broadly drafted. It really is a bit of a planner's nightmare—not so much of a focus of the rules, but the broad definitions that seem to apply in all aspects of your practice, whether you think they're meant to apply or not.”

Monica also explains how Osler leverages technology to “deliver work product to clients in an efficient way that takes advantage of the considerable experience and expertise in our tax disputes practice. This includes a standardized approach to tax litigation documents,  discoveries, motions, settlement agreements, to the extent possible.”

Read Phillip Greer’s full interview, “Monica Biringer and Firoz Ahmed on Canada’s changing tax practice,” in Best Lawyers.