For the 17% of Canadians who don't file online, make sure you get to the post office on time

National Post


In a normal year, April 30, would be the filing deadline to submit your personal income tax return (self-employed taxpayers and their spouse or partner have until June 16). But this year, the Canada Revenue Agency extended the normal filing deadline( to midnight on May 5, 2014 as a result of the five-day service interruption in April resulting from the Heartbleed bug. The self-employed must also make sure any balance owing is paid by May 5 to avoid interest charges.

The CRA encourages Canadians to file electronically and the latest statistics show that indeed 83% of all returns filed to date were filed online. But you are still entitled to file a paper return, should you choose to do so.

One of the most common questions I get asked by paper filers is if they can simply "pop it in the mail" or whether some other "fancy" (read "more expensive") method of filing is required.

The Tax Act actually doesn't specify how a return must be filed. All it says is that if you file a paper-based return by "first class mail or its equivalent," it is deemed to be received by the CRA on the date it was mailed. In other words, as long as your return is postmarked by May 5, 2014, it will be considered filed "on time" regardless of when the CRA tax processing centre actually receives it.

Of course, in the event of a dispute, proving it was filed on time is another matter, which is why you may wish to retain proof of filing, perhaps through registered mail. You may be pleased to know that the CRA must also keep proof when it sends documents to you.

Take, for example, the recent tax case decided late last year involving a taxpayer who missed the normal deadline for objecting to a Notice of Reassessment because he argued that he never received it. The CRA claimed the Notice was sent to him by registered mail.

In Tax Court, the CRA appeals officer testified that "his normal practice is to place a letter in an envelope and then to place the envelope in the 'out' box for pick-up by our mail clerk. The mail clerk picks up once in the morning and once in the afternoon. My understanding is that items usually leave our office the following day."

But something funny must have happened on the way to the post office because, as his lawyer testified, if the notice was truly sent by registered mail, "his file would contain the 11 digit tracking number as well as an accepting location stamp on the back confirming that the mail had reached the post office...The failure of (the CRA) to provide the 11 digit tracking code for the registered mail... suggests to me that the mail never reached the post office."

As a result, the judge concluded that the deadline for filing the taxpayer's objection had not passed since the CRA could not provide evidence that the notice was ever sent.