On March 16, 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic effectively shut down the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), the Department of Justice (DOJ), the Tax Court of Canada (the “Tax Court”), and the Federal Court. Overnight, auditors, appeals officers, collectors and other specialized CRA staff, DOJ lawyers, and the Tax Court and Federal Court registrars were all sent home pursuant to the workplace lockdown measures. The weeks and months that followed were a lesson in the need for professional versatility in the tax law realm, and a warning against excessive specialization.
Due to strict rules surrounding the secure management of sensitive taxpayer information, few of the CRA’s front-line officers were set up for remote work. Some lawyers of the DOJ had previously been issued laptops and mobile phones, but were otherwise paralyzed by the court closures and the inability to reach CRA litigation officers. By April, the CRA had “runners” who would come to CRA offices across the country in personal protective equipment to pick up and digitize faxes, open mail and forward it to the attention of the relevant parties. At the same time, the CRA did its best to inform the public that it was temporarily repurposed for the Federal government’s rollout of the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) and other relief measures. CRA audits, appeals and collections ground to a halt—and with them the functions of the tax litigator.