Alexander College Corp. v. R. - TCC: College not a “university” for GST/HST purposes

Alexander College Corp. v. R. - TCC:  College not a “university” for GST/HST purposes

Alexander College Corp. v. The Queen (October 2, 2015 – 2015 TCC 238, Lyons J.).

Précis:   This case turned on the very narrow issue of whether the appellant was a “university” for GST/HST purposes.  If it were, then its tuition fees would be tax exempt;  if not, those fees would be subject to GST/HST.

The Court agreed with the Minister that the appellant was not a university and dismissed the appeal.  The parties were given 30 days to make submissions on costs.

Decision:  The point at issue was narrow:

[4]             The appellant contended that the Associate Degree, defined as a “degree” under the DAA is a degree-granting institution which is recognized by British Columbia provincial legislation, by universities and colleges within that province, by post-secondary institutions within and outside Canada, and by federal departments or programs. As such, it meets the definition of a “university” under subsection 123(1) of the ETA. Therefore, as a university, the Fees paid for courses (supplied) are exempt from GST/HST under section 7 of Part III of Schedule V of the ETA (“section 7”)

[5]             The respondent takes the position that as a private college granting an Associate Degree, the appellant fails to meet the conditions of a university in that the term “degree” in subsection 123(1) of the ETA equates to a baccalaureate degree or higher to qualify as a university. By describing itself as a “university”, the appellant is trying to bootstrap itself into Section 7 so that its supplies will be exempt from GST/HST. Finding that a private college is a university will lead to absurd and illogical consequences.

The decision contains an extensive discussion of the underlying legislative provisions and an examination of some very inventive arguments advanced on behalf of the appellant.  At the end of the day however the case boiled down to the conclusion that the appellant was a “college” and a for-profit institution, not a “university”:

[73]        Parliament’s intention is that in order for a college to fall within the definition of “university”, it must be “an organization that operates a college affiliated with a university”. To interpret “a degree-granting institution” as a “college” makes the phrase “organization that operates a college affiliated with …” redundant. A redundancy would also occur in section 7, which makes a distinction between a “university” and a “public college”. As noted by the respondent, this illustrates it is contrary to the presumption against tautology.

[74]        Parliament’s legislated definition of “university” in subsection 123(1) of the ETA makes a distinction between an institution and a college. I find that the appellant in this context is a college, not an institution.

[75]        The answer to the question is: the appellant is not a recognized degree‑granting institution, therefore it is not a university, under subsection 123(1) nor is it a “university” under the laws of the Province of British Columbia and it is not entitled to the exemption under section 7, of Part III, Schedule V of the ETA.

[76]        Based on the foregoing reasons, I find and conclude that appellant does not qualify as a “university”. Since I have concluded that the appellant is not a “university” as defined in subsection 123(1) of the ETA during the reporting period of July 1, 2010 to September 30, 2010, the input tax credits allowed by the reassessment are properly allowable in the amount of $68,847.27 for the relevant period.

[77]        The appeal is dismissed.

The parties were given 30 days to make submissions as to costs.