CRA Tweet Confusing About RRSP and Tax Return Deadlines?
It’s safe to say that getting tax or legal advice off Twitter is generally a bad idea. But it is also impossible to deny technology’s key role in timely dissemination of information. So the Canada Revenue Agency deserves kudos for embracing Twitter and actively Tweeting helpful tax updates. A Tweet from February 27, 2017, however, could cause confusion regarding two important tax due dates. The Tweet states:
“9 weeks to April 30! This is the last week to contribute to an RRSP for 2016!”
What’s the RRSP deadline? It’s confusing based on the Tweet. It opens with a sense of urgency by referring to April 30, so one could be forgiven for thinking “This is the last week” means that the week of April 30, 2017 is the last week to contribute to RRSPs for 2016. Alternatively, if one knows that April 30 is actually the tax return filing deadline (as the link accompanying the Tweet indicates), “This is the last week” could refer to the week in which the Tweet was sent. There is no reason why “week” should mean anything other than the whole week, so the last day to contribute is the end of that week, Friday March 3, 2017. But both are wrong: the RRSP deadline is actually March 1, 2017 – which is no where referred to in the Tweet. So without further investigation, an unsophisticated taxpayer reading the Tweet could easily be confused. Of course, the whole thing would have been much clearer if the Tweet simply stated the respective deadlines for RRSPs and for filing tax returns (which would make for a boring Tweet, admittedly).
It may seem a bit silly to parse and critique the language of a Tweet. But the public increasingly turns to and relies on the internet for information. CRA is reasonably viewed as an authoritative source. Although the old legal maxim “ignorance of the law is no excuse” remains true, there are recognized exceptions where taxpayers rely on incorrect or misleading information provided by the government. The question is how much can one reasonably rely on a Tweet? That is an issue to be decided.
This is not an isolated incident: a couple years ago, CRA’s website erroneously informed the public of a May 5, 2015 deadline for filing 2014 tax returns, instead of April 30. A fiasco ensued and the government ultimately decided to extend the deadline to May 5.
So Twitter and even government websites can be invaluable sources of information, but they are not shortcuts for the actual rules.
Simon Thang, LL.B, LL.M (Taxation) is Toronto tax lawyer practising exclusively in the areas of sales tax (GST/HST, PST), and customs and trade. He is the principal of Thang Tax Law.