Duhaime's Law Dictionary


Tax Definition:

A payment to a public authority, required by statute, for a public purpose.

Related Terms: Tax Amnesty, Tax Avoidance, Tax Evasion, Direct Tax, Income Tax, Levy

John Bouvier defined a tax as:

"A pecuniary burden imposed for the support of the government. The enforced proportional contribution of persons and property levied by the authority of the state for the support of the government and for all public needs."

In Lower Mainland, the Privy Council, Justice Thankerton for the Court, wrote that taxes:

"... are compulsorily imposed by a statutory (authority)...

"They are enforceable by law... (and) compulsion is an essential feature of taxation."

TAX RETURNIn Australia, Justice Dwyer wrote, in Leake:

"A compulsory contribution, or an impost, may be nonetheless a tax, though not so called.

"The distinguishing feature of a tax ... is that it is a compulsory contribution imposed by a sovereign authority on, and required from, the general body of subjects or citizens, as distinguished from isolated levies on individuals."

In Canada, an oft-cited definition is that of Justice Duff of the Supreme Court in Lawson:

"That they are taxes, I have no doubt. In the first place they are enforceable by law .... Then they are imposed under the authority of the legislature. They are imposed by a public body.... The levy is also made for a public purpose."

In Ontario Private Campground, Justice Howden wrote:

"A tax is defined as an impost or levy by the legislature or other public body for a public purpose, enforced by law.

"At common law, the terms fee and charge do not exclude a tax and have been used interchangeably; therefore it was held in British Columbia that a fee imposed by provincial statute on operators of mobile home parks ... was considered to be a tax on land. Similar fees or taxes on mobile home parks have been upheld as land taxes."

But in Westbank, at ¶4, Justice Gonthier of the Canadian Supreme Court distinguished a tax from a user-fee:

"The impugned charges bear all of the traditional hallmarks of a tax. They are enforceable by law, imposed pursuant to the authority of Parliament, levied by a public body, and are imposed for a public purpose. There is no nexus between the revenues raised and the cost of any services provided. As such, they do not resemble a user fee, nor any other form of a regulatory charge."

In civil procedure, tax is also used a a verb and refers to the process of challenging a general bill of a lawyer and subjecting it to the detailed review of a court. The process is referred to as taxation.

Finally, these words of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes of the United States Supreme Court in Compana de Tobacos v Collector:

"Taxes are what we pay for civilized society."

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