Henry David Thoreau would be proud. For five years, a Chilliwack, B.C., couple refused to pay taxes while operating a school where they urged adult students to do the same, teaching that taxation amounts to slavery. But Elaine Gould and Russell Porisky will be lucky to get off as lightly as the 19th-century American writer, who famously withheld his taxes and paid for his disobedience with a single night in jail.
Gould and Porisky may spend years behind bars for failing to pay tax on more than $1 million of income generated by their school, Paradigm Education Group, plus $66,113 in unremitted GST. Last week, a B.C. Supreme Court judge found the pair guilty of tax evasion, and Porisky guilty of counselling their students to commit fraud. They’ve not yet been sentenced, but for evasion alone, the Income Tax Act allows for sentences of up to 12 months per count.
In his Paradigm seminars, Porisky taught that people are two separate entities in law—the “natural” person and “legal” person. Only the legal person is required to pay taxes, he claimed, and since the income flows to the natural person, taxes are essentially optional. Kooky as the theory sounds, it has been circulating long enough among tax resisters that the Canada Revenue Agency issued a release last fall advising Canadians to ignore anyone espousing it. One of Porisky’s students, a dentist named Eva Sydel, tried the “natural person” defence in vain in 2007, and received 18 months in jail. The judge in Porisky’s case was no less dismissive. “It is a failed attempt at word magic,” said Justice Elliott Myers of the theory, “and has no validity.”