In addition to the requirement of a tax benefit or advantage, the application of most modern general anti-avoidance rules turns on two elements: a so-called “subjective element” which considers the purpose for which the transaction or arrangement resulting in the tax benefit or advantage was undertaken or arranged; and an “objective element” which considers the object or purpose of the relevant provisions to determine if the tax benefit resulting from the transaction or arrangement is or is not consistent with this object or purpose.
Although these two elements are present in most modern GAARs, the function of each element within these rules and the relationship between them is often poorly understood. Other unresolved issues concern the roles of artificiality and economic substance in the application of these rules, and the relationship, if any, between these concepts and the “subjective” and “objectives” elements of the rules. A final set of issues involves the uncertainty that GAARs may engender, the ability of judges to apply these rules and principles in a coherent and consistent manner, and the compatibility of these rules and principles with the rule of law.
This essay addresses these issues by reflecting on Tim Edgar’s article “Building a Better GAAR”. Part 1I considers the rationale for a general anti-avoidance rule or principle, arguing that it not only represents a useful policy response to the harmful consequences of tax avoidance (the consequentialist argument that Professor Edgar espoused), but that it may also be justified on the non-consequentialist grounds that it protects the integrity of the provisions at issue and thereby upholds the rule of law. Part III builds on this analysis to consider the design of a general anti-avoidance rule or principle, arguing that it should be codified in the form of an explicit rule, should include subjective and objective elements like the purpose and misuse or abuse requirements in the Canadian GAAR, and should be informed by concepts of artificiality and economic substance which apply respectively to the subjective and objective elements of the rule. Part IV concludes.