Published In

University of British Columbia Law Review

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

2007

Subjects

Canada; Taxation; Rule of law; Access to justice; Provincial sales tax; Legal services; Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

Abstract

In British Columbia (Attorney General) v. Christie, 2007 SCC 21, [2007] 1 SCR 873, the unanimous full bench of the Supreme Court of Canada upheld a provincial sales tax ("PST") on legal services, rejecting a Charter challenge and overturning the lower courts' decisions that partially invalidated the tax. The taxpayer, a lawyer practising poverty law in British Columbia, challenged the validity of a provincial sales tax charging 7 percent on fees billed for legal services and payable on billing. The PST on legal services required lawyers and notaries public in private practice to add the tax onto their billings. The taxpayer proved that his clientele needed legal assistance in litigious matters, but could not afford to pay the PST on top of his modest fees, with the result that he had to pay the PST personally on their behalf. All the judges hearing the case accepted as a fact that the PST impeded access to legal assistance by the taxpayer's clientele, and imposed a hardship on him personally. The motions judge in the British Columbia Supreme Court and a majority of the British Columbia Court of Appeal declared the tax invalid to the extent that it violated civil rights of access to justice. Access to justice is implicitly guaranteed by the concept of the rule of law as expressed in the Preamble to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Supreme Court of Canada upheld the PST on legal services in full, concluding that the taxpayer had failed to establish any violation of the rule of law or denial of access to justice.

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