Canada’s tax minister says police will not be able to ask for tax data under a new government bill, but police and the bill itself say otherwise.

Bill C-31 allows Canada Revenue Agency employees to give private tax data on Canadians to police without a warrant if they believe a serious crime has been committed.

National Revenue Minister Kerry-Lynne Findlay told the House of Commons on Tuesday that police cannot ask for this information.

“Let me be clear: information cannot be shared on the mere suspicion of criminal activity, or based on a request initiated by law-enforcement authorities,” she said.

The legislation says the agency must have reasonable grounds to believe a crime has been committed for information to be handed over. But at no point does the bill say police cannot ask for the information.

In fact, police are already planning to use the new powers.

“My understanding is it would be a police-driven request. That’s my read of it,” Ontario Provincial Police Det. Insp. Paul Beesley said in an interview.

Police would likely make these requests while investigating organized crime and political corruption, said Beesley, who heads the OPP’s anti-rackets branch.

He seemed somewhat surprised that the bill does not require a warrant for disclosures. Asked if he saw judicial oversight as a burden, he said no.

“Typically when police obtain information where there’s an expectation of privacy, and I think it’s fair to say tax information is one of those areas, typically there is some form of judicial authorization,” Beesley said.

“I don’t think judicial oversight of police is a problem at all. We deal with that mechanism every day, and it’s good to have judicial review.”

Currently, police can only obtain tax data if charges have already been laid or if a judge signs off in specific situations.

The government argues that on rare occasions, Canada Revenue Agency officers come across clear evidence of crimes but cannot share that with police. The government has repeatedly cited the example of finding child pornography on a person’s computer.

Though auditors would not typically go through someone’s computer, the agency does have the ability to seize records in tax evasion cases.

NDP national revenue critic Murray Rankin said some disclosure to police could be appropriate, but there should be judicial oversight.

“Canadians rightly want the personal information they provide to their government to be properly safeguarded,” Rankin said in the House of Commons.

“If there’s a good reason for government to be sharing around people’s personal information, they should make that case to a judge.”

Because Canadians are required to file taxes, one lawyer has questioned whether the Charter of Rights and Freedoms would allow for this information to be freely used against them.

“It does raise questions as to whether or not it could survive a constitutional challenge,” Stephane Eljarrat, partner at Montreal law firm Davies Ward Phillips & Vineberg, said in an interview Monday.

Asked about privacy concerns, Beesley said police would be careful to follow the rules because otherwise information would be thrown out by a judge. That could undo months of investigative work, he said.

“Police would take this new power very seriously and guard it judiciously,” he said.

Late Tuesday, Findlay’s office sent an email saying the intention of the bill was not for law enforcement to request information.

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