Monday, 1 September 2008

A little bit of tax evasion seen as OK, study finds

There is of course a double standard at work here. People who run their own business think "small business pays too much tax, government wastes the money it collects anyway and small business people deserve compensation for working long hours." They see it as "their money" that they are entitled to keep. Of course the law does not support this belief.

But exactly the same people are absolutely certain that cheating welfare, or fare evasion on transit, must be severely punished. But that is about the same - or often much smaller amounts - of public funds. If you do not pay your taxes, the public till has less in it. If you get an overpayment from some public source, a tax refund that you are not really entitled to, or EI for a week when you picked up a few hours casual work, or something similar the loss to the public till is exactly the same. And the fact that someone on very low income, on welfare rates that are too low to survive on, when they have to chose between eating or getting a bus ride feels equally "entitled" is not an excuse that would get accepted either.

One of the silliest notions that has emerged in recent years on the far right edges of the political spectrum is "zero tolerance". This appears more south of the border of course, but is based on the notion that every broken window pane or graffittied bus stop sends a message about lawlessness. Canadians in general, and our legal system, seem to be able to survive a small amount of law "bending". We do not go apeshit over possession of small quantities of pot. We think we can tell the difference between a toker and a dealer. People speed all the time - but usually stay at around 110% of the posted speed. Indeed back in the days of photo radar they were told that was alright.

People do not so much "obey" the law as comply with it - mostly. That is not to say they think it is right. For instance, most airline passengers wonder how on earth you could hijack a plane with a pair of toenail clippers, but realise there is no point in arguing. But that does not mean that they do not try to get stuff through - meaning the practice of confiscation of personal property without any due process at all occurs every hour of every day. Most Canadians also will bring stuff back across the border and not tell the agent about it. There are plenty of malls just south of the 49th parallel which depend on people who make day trips - and I doubt if more than a handful actually pay any Canadian taxes at the border on their way back from their day trip.
Catherine Jolicoeur, spokeswoman for the CRA, said the study will help the agency inform and educate businesses about the "risks and consequences" of participating in the underground economy and to refine its strategies for addressing the problem.
Yes it's all about "messaging" and "optics". Ethics, morals or legality are of no concern at all.

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