THE LAWYERS WEEKLY
November 19, 2010 | 21
Canadians must enjoy being
taxed. Why else would we placidly tolerate a tax regime that
is so mind numbingly complex,
incomprehensible and expensive?
The Income Tax Act is the
largest and most complicated
statute in Canadian law. The
sheer volume of legislation
(expanded and amended annually), regulations, changing
administrative practices, new
treaties and judicial decisions
means that no single person can
ever expect to fully understand
the entire tax law in one lifetime.
We are at a critical junction.
Individuals who do not have
even the remotest understanding of tax law must, under threat
of civil and criminal sanctions,
comply with the fiction that
everyone is presumed to know
the law. The only way that individuals can comply, as they are
required to do in a self-assess-ment system, is by retaining
expensive tax professionals.
Lawyers and accountants are
necessarily expensive. They too
must cope with the complexity,
volume and uncertainty of tax
law. Without full and detailed
diligence, tax professionals are
at risk. To insure against this
risk, tax lawyers and accountants must spend many hours to
capture ever-changing laws.
Under the third party advisor
“Individuals cannot be expected to respect a
system that makes them victims of its
incomprehensible language and unintended
consequences. Taxpayers who cannot understand
the law will not comply with it and, if they do, the
costs of monitoring their compliance will increase
rules, the minister can assess
substantial financial penalties
against advisors whom he considers to be culpable in advising
their clients. This, in addition to
the potential for professional
malpractice, virtually guarantees that the cost of professional
advice will continue to escalate.
Individuals cannot be
expected to respect a system
that makes them victims of its
incomprehensible language and
unintended consequences. Tax-
payers who cannot understand
the law will not comply with it
and, if they do, the costs of
monitoring their compliance
will increase substantially. We
see the virtual collapse of tax
and financial systems through
tax avoidance in countries such
as Greece, Italy and France.
Canadians are losing faith in
the integrity of their govern-
ment’s tax system. Tax revolts
are not unheard of in history.
Governments need to be vigi-
lant that they retain the confi-
dence of the people.
Brush up on law through theatre
“Brush up your Shakespeare”
was the suggestion given by one of
the gangsters in the Broadway
musical Kiss Me Kate. The advice
was that by doing so one could
impress the girls.
I go to the theatre to brush up
on my law — especially at the Shaw
Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake,
Ontario. Here’s why.
Law schools love what they call
simulations. They don’t really
simulate much other than pretending to be a character in an
event and wading through extraneous and irrelevant details in a
written scenario. The distracting
details are a result of a law professor’s creative writing — about the
same value as an English professor’s opinions on the law.
I’ve written previously in The
Lawyers Weekly about the limitations of simulations. I advocate
using real events, especially from
the teachers’ or students’ practice.
Events can be revealed gradually
with teaching moments at each
twist and turn. Students can play
themselves, harnessing their own
real-life and academic experiences.
Assuming roles or switching genders and races muddies the waters.
That’s best left to acting class, not
Even though most simulations
contain too much irrelevant information, some don’t contain enough.
Some others can’t contain enough
The best example of the latter
involves teaching ethics. A popular
simulation features a group of law
(or ethics) students in a lifeboat or
trapped in a cave with only so much
air or going down in an aircraft that
needs to jettison weight. We’re a
diverse lot — gender, somebody’s
pregnant, somebody’s in a wheelchair and so on. Who gets to live
and who must die?
Here’s where students (now
players) will never have enough
information. What if we let the
young ones live and they have a
pre-existing condition that causes
them to die anyway? What if the
old one has good genes and would
outlive the young one? What about
the one who is destined to discover
a cure for cancer? What if the guy
in the wheelchair is Stephen Hawk-
ing? And on it goes. And it can go
forever in break-out groups in class
— during which time the law school
teacher gets a break from teaching.
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