Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Into the Witness Protection Program © by adrian

Well, not exactly. I mean after all, would I really be writing a public blog if I was in the witness protection program? Actually I ended up not quite in and not quite out (a not unfamiliar position for me).

What I actually went into was a mostly unknown plan in Canada that is quaintly named the Voluntary Disclosure Program. For some strange reason the many government tax ladies and gents I eventually ended up dealing with (they called themselves my handlers) just seemed to think it was thigh slappingly funny whenever talking to them I referred to the program they let me into as the witness protection program, so I'm sticking with that name. Believe me; making government tax officials laugh and slap their thighs is a lot of fun...

I've mentioned previously that I was a hermit. I more or less dropped out of society many years ago and have lived a Spartan life by choice ever since.

Here's how it all came about.

Around 1975 or so in my career, I worked as a personnel manager for a large chain of camera stores and was paid oodles of money (see my story In praise of Bill Gates). When I quit that job I just bummed around and took it easy for a year and didn't work at all. I vaguely remember something about smoking a lot of dope, but I could be wrong on that one. I guess if I could remember that part, it wouldn't be true at all...

The year after that, the government of Canada noticed I hadn't filed any tax return for the missing year and so they assessed me for taxes owed based on what I earned earlier. I didn't notice this though because next to answering phones and responding to doorbells, opening mail has never been high on my list of things I must do.

So, I found out about the assessment when it was too late to file an appeal. Even though they eventually did acknowledge that I was unemployed and had no income that year, they still insisted that the incorrect tax assessment had to be paid in full because I had missed the appeal deadline.

There were letters back and forth, threats and demands made, but nothing that made any sense to me so I ignored it all. Then they started randomly garnisheeing my bank account. Government garnishees stay in effect for ninety days, so even if you have no money in the bank when they hit it, any deposits made in the next ninety days after that get automatically sucked up by them too. This presents a rather difficult obstacle in meeting other financial obligations like mortgage and car payments.

I started making visits to their office which was on Front Street in Toronto. That didn't produce any more results than the mail did and they just insisted I had to pay even though everybody agreed I technically shouldn't owe any money. Appeal filing deadline rules were unshakable. So, at my last appointment with them I explained that I was leaving now. I told the rather shocked tax agent that I would happily hang around in the laneway downstairs for five minutes. If they wanted to send the guys with baseball bats down to talk to me that was fine, but after five minutes I would be gone and they would never find me again.

Just like that, just like in the movies! All balls and bravado, nothing frightened me when I was in my thirties. So I dropped out and became invisible. Hiding, as is said, in plain sight.

I ordered a phone in my dog's name and used that to start building an identity. I almost tripped up when the Bell person taking the phone order unexpectedly wanted to know my first name. I quickly thought "Furry" but stopped myself in time and chose "Harry" instead, (I also resisted the temptation to spell it Hairy). I became a new man (or puppy, as the case may be) and quickly disappeared from the tax records.

Now, for all you moralists out there who may think it's atrocious and unpatriotic not to pay the tax man (person?), try getting hit with a tax bill for a few thousand dollars you don't owe and then let me know how moral you feel about it.

I'd also like to clear up a potential misunderstanding. It is definitely illegal to file a false tax return, but there is nothing illegal in simply not filing a return. The tax people will get mad at you, but no laws have been broken; lie in a return you file though, and you're in trouble. I always filed and paid my business Retail Sales tax every month and even though I used my real name for that (not my dog's) nobody ever noticed that I didn't file anything else.

From that day more than thirty years ago till now I've kept all my receipts, T4 slips and miscellaneous tax information in what has now grown to be many, many large boxes. I always felt if they kicked my door in I would be able to point to the boxes and insist I had all my records available. Pick any day or year from the past thirty and in no time I will be able to produce a receipt of how much I earned or spent that day.

When it finally came time for me to apply for my old age pension I thought the jig was up. I just knew that as soon as my forms arrived on some official's desk they would reach for the red phone they all must have and let the guys with the baseball bats know that they had finally found me. Surely they have been driving around Toronto night and day looking for me for the past thirty or so years. This was finally the big chance they'd been waiting for to get their revenge.

Well, it didn't happen.

Instead, a few months later I got a lovely letter from the government thanking me for living such a long life and promising to send me five hundred dollars a month from then until I fell over dead. They even said that I was going to also receive a second cheque from the Canada Pension Plan. I had applied for CPP but seeing as I had contributed such a small sum in my documented working career I thought I would be lucky if I got anything more than $1.69 a month (I thought old Harry the dog was entitled to more than me). As it turned out though, once again they put me on the fast track to riches and hooked me into an additional monthly cheque.

I was curious as to how they arrived at the number they had for the CPP amount, so I went over to their office to inquire. I explained I didn't object, in fact I loved what they were going to send me, I just wanted to know how they got to that number. Was a scientific formula used or did someone simply throw darts at a board with numbers on it? The clerk took my information and went to one of their office machines. A moment or so after punching in my data a printout was discharged from the beast. She stared at it for a minute and then she came back and handed me a printout of all the money I had paid into the system, (not much, as it was). She leaned over the counter and whispered to me "If I were you I would just shut up and go back home, I have no idea how they decided to even give you a penny." So, I shut up and went back home.

I was rich, the money just started pouring in and all I had to do was stay alive. Then in 2007 the government decided that they would now allow income splitting to apply between spouses (one of which I am). However, seeing as I still hadn't filed any tax returns since 1976 my bride Linda thought it best if I just "shut up and went back home."

By 2008 the potential savings for Linda's taxes if we split our incomes was just too large to ignore, so I decided to turn myself in.

The Voluntary Disclosure Program is set up so that the only way in is to write a confession to the government listing your tax crimes, declaring why you did it, and get this... you also need to tell them what you think would be the appropriate penalty they should impose on you for your wrongdoing. If they like your submission they will let you in and if you're honest and disclose everything you did that was bad, they potentially might forgive you. If they don't like your confession, now that they know everything about you, I guess we get back to the guys with the baseball bats (I mean after all, they need to earn a living too).

Linda and everybody I knew insisted I shouldn't do it. When I looked up information on the Web every opinion available also insisted that if I did it without legal assistance, I was a fool and would loose everything I ever owned and spend the rest of my life behind bars. Of course, all those opinions came from lawyers. So, what the hell, with that much encouragement, I just couldn't resist writing up my confession and sending it in.

Now, it may come as a surprise to you my treasured readers, but I'm not very respectful when I get presented with idiotic things and this struck me as very idiotic indeed. So I wrote my confession and extensive list of crimes with the light touch of insanity I felt was befitting such silliness. How could I not?

About two months later I got my welcome aboard the Voluntary Disclosure Program admission letter.

My composition had been accepted. I had supplicated myself in a manner that was deemed worthy. My confession was adequate and I had passed! I now had my own ID number and was given temporary government immunity and the names of my handlers in the St. Catherines tax office to which all future communication was to be directed.

Seeing as I now had government immunity, I filed my 2008 return, the first in thirty years and we split Linda's income. The tax office promptly thanked me and sent me a large tax refund cheque. I convinced Linda that she should re-file an amended return for 2007, I would also file and we would again split our incomes. Sure enough, I got another thank you and a larger tax refund cheque this time. I had tapped into the mother lode. Life is good!

Eventually my handlers decided that just filing the past ten years was more than enough... oddly, they were starting to loose patience with the sarcastic new nutbar they had inherited.

I phoned the Ottawa tax office and ordered up fifteen years of tax forms prior to 2007. I felt filing the extra five years would be an extravagance worthy of my effort. While I was waiting their arrival I got all my old receipt boxes together. After taking them outdoors and cleaning the mouse droppings and spiders out of them I started sorting fifteen years of T4 slips and related stuff.

Originally I had been granted ninety days immunity from any prosecution. I thought that was not enough, so I wrote them explaining that I was an old addled man that needed more time, so they gave me an additional sixty days to complete my class assignment.

When everything arrived from Ottawa we tossed all the boxes in the car and drove to the Laurentians where I sat naked in Linda's cottage and had an extremely sacrilegious and fun time filling out my tax forms. In fact it went so smoothly, we both started to feel disappointed I wasn't doing them all the way back to 1975.

When I had them finally completed I put them all together and mailed them in a large priority post box to my St. Catherines handlers.

About a month later I got a terse official notice from the team leader of the enforcement branch of their office stating they found from my recent tax filings that I had not been bad enough to be punished. I quote from their letter:" therefore a penalty would not be appropriate in your situation" (I detected a note of disappointment) and they had decided to just send all my crap on to "the appropriate taxation centre for regular processing".

So, my stay in the witness protection program was terminated. Linda and I are still waiting for the letter that says I can finally throw away all those old receipts.

Ah, but it was all worth it. I have finally redeemed myself and am now an upstanding and up to date, I might add, member of society.