National Column: Liberal push for privacy died after election

by Tim Harper

When the former Conservative government agreed to hand over private banking information of Canadians to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, the Liberals led the growing chorus of indignation.

Their opposition started meekly but strengthened. They tried to amend the law, which they portrayed as a loss of sovereignty and an unnecessary bow to American pressure.

They accused Conservatives of breaching Canadians’ charter rights and unconstitutionally discriminating against Canadians based on their country of origin. The opposition went to the top. Justin Trudeau said governments had to stand up for its citizens when foreign governments encroached on their rights.

Liberals became increasingly loud about the Stephen Harper government’s abuse of privacy.

Then they went silent. Then they were elected and now they defend the agreement they once vilified.

The first 155,000 information slips on Canadians with U.S. roots were shipped to the IRS on schedule last Sept. 30, in the middle of the election campaign when Washington told the Canada Revenue Agency it was not eligible to ask for an extension of the order.

This all revolves around an American law known as the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) a bully-boy move by the U.S. that allows it to reach across borders and seek the financial information of not only Americans living in this country, but dual citizens – Canadians who have returned holding green cards and those with American spouses. The net includes up to a million Canadians who have not renounced their American citizenship, including those who came to Canada as children and have never returned or earned a penny from U.S. labour.

It is all in the name of Washington’s tireless chase of alleged tax cheats. It alone compels its citizens to pay taxes regardless of where they live.

Most of the world has complied with the Washington edict. The Conservatives claimed small victories for our privacy by having the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) share the information with the IRS and
winning exemptions for some types of accounts. But the Liberals opposed. Let us count the ways:

“We must deny the Conservatives permission to allow the transmission of personal information without the authorization of a judge,” wrote Liberal MP Emmanuel Dubourg (Bourassa), now the parliamentary secretary to Revenue Minister Diane Lebouthillier.

His office said Thursday he had no comment and instead shared a statement from Trudeau’s office.

Vancouver MP Hedy Fry cited experts who said the agreement violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Marc Garneau, now the minister of transport, said the deal “infringes upon our sovereignty” and was “an attack on our privacy.”

Scott Brison, now president of the Treasury Board, tried to amend the agreement to exempt Canadian citizens.

Last week Brison and Garneau told Elizabeth Thompson of iPolitics that they both now support an agreement that is difficult to opt out of retroactively.

Then, six weeks before the 2015 campaign began, Trudeau wrote: “Targeting hard-working Canadians who pay taxes is unfair. The government of Canada has a responsibility to stand up for its citizens when foreign governments are encroaching on their rights.”

That was a response to Lynn Swanson of the Alliance for the Defence of Canadian Sovereignty, a group which has raised $700,000 to mount a court challenge to the program in Federal Court. Swanson is Pennsylvania-born but has lived in Canada for 45 years and is a Canadian citizen.

“I’m a Canadian citizen because of Pierre Trudeau. I arrived during the Richard Nixon years and everything here was so upbeat with Trudeau,” she told me. “To see my charter rights violated so flagrantly and see his son do nothing about it . . . I cannot begin to describe the sense of betrayal I feel.”

To those who worry about account information, transaction information or personal identity information sent to a foreign government – not to mention the fear of hacks – Lebouthillier and Trudeau’s office offer gentle assurances that “all security safeguards are upheld.”

But those waiting for the Liberals to overturn provisions in FATCA need only to look at last week’s federal budget. FATCA has begat something known as the CRS – Common Reporting Standards – which comes into effect July 1, 2017.

The Liberal budget promised upcoming legislation to cement the Harper government commitment to join in an international agreement that will compel Canadian financial institutions to share information on expats with 60 other nations, not just Americans.

Take this saga as a reminder – sometimes it’s easy to oppose, but as Liberals are showing on this file, it is no predictor on how you might govern.

Tim Harper is a national affairs writer. His column appears Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Twitter:@nutgraf1

Copyright 2016 – Torstar Syndication Services

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