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Accounting, Economics, and Law: A Convivium

Ed. by Avi-Yonah, Reuven S. / Biondi, Yuri / Sunder, Shyam

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GAARs and the Nexus between Statutory Interpretation and Legislative Drafting: Lessons for the U.S. from Canada

Reuven S. Avi-Yonah / Amir Pichhadze
  • LLB, LLM, London School of Economics, LLM, SJD, the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, USA
  • Other articles by this author:
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Published Online: 2016-04-09 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/ael-2015-0019


Rules targeting specific known schemes are not the only tools available in the battle against tax avoidance. Legal systems also use measures that apply generally. The U.S. for example has tended to rely heavily on general doctrines. One such doctrine which is discussed in part 2 of this chapter is the “economic substance” doctrine. Yet as Xiong and Evans recently pointed out “although such judicial doctrines can be used to deal with various aspects of complicated tax abuse judges tended sometimes to limit and sometimes to enlarge the scope of jurisprudential interpretation leading to substantial uncertainty and risk.” One way to limit the discretionary power of judges and overcome the uncertainty apparent in their judgments is by formalizing the doctrines as the US has done by codifying the “economic substance” doctrine in 2010. As explained in part 2 of this chapter a limitation of the “economic substance” doctrine whether it is established judicially or codified by statute may be its focus on the taxpayer’s intentions as the basis for attacking tax avoidance. Part 3 of this chapter goes on to explain that the U.S. could overcome this limitation by adopting a statutory General Anti-Abuse Rule (“GAAR”). GAARs also impose generally applicable limits on what constitutes acceptable (reasonable) tax arrangements. But they do so based on whether the arrangements are consistent with the legislature’s intentions as they were conveyed in the tax provision which the taxpayer is relying on for achieving the tax advantage in question. As Canada’s Federal Court of Appeal (“FCA”) explained “by confining legitimate tax avoidance to schemes that are not inconsistent with the policy underlying the statutory provision invoked by the taxpayer GAAR effectively limits the scope of the principle in Commissioners of Inland Revenue v. Duke of Westminster… that ‘[e]very man is entitled if he can to order his affairs so that the tax attaching under the appropriate Acts is less than it would otherwise be’.” Based on Canada’s experience with the GAAR parts 4 and 5 identify and explain the nexus between statutory interpretation and legislative drafting and the implications of this nexus on the application of a GAAR in the U.S. should Congress choose to take this route. Part 4 identifies that while the Supreme Court of Canada (“SCC”) has recognized the need to apply a purposive interpretation of Canada’s GAAR in order to ascertain parliament’s intentions in the relevant tax provision the court has also held that it will only give effect to those intentions which were clearly conveyed by the relevant provision and will not invent a legislative intention which parliament has failed to convey. Part 5 notes that such judicial restraint has also been taken by the U.S. Supreme Court and therefore a similar approach could be expected by the U.S. courts should Congress adopt a GAAR. Therefore it would be up to Congress as it is similarly up to Canada’s Parliament to carefully and clearly draft its legislative intentions otherwise the effectiveness of a GAAR would be undermined.

Keywords: tax avoidance; GAAR; US; Canada


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About the article

Published Online: 2016-04-09

Citation Information: Accounting, Economics, and Law: A Convivium, Volume 7, Issue 1, 20150019, ISSN (Online) 2152-2820, ISSN (Print) 2194-6051, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/ael-2015-0019.

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