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Tax Decisions, Tax Debts, Legal Education, Public Policy


This paper is part of a larger project where I use the facts in tax decisions to reveal something about who we are. It looks through a small window into the lives of the people who find themselves caught between our collective and their individual expenditure aspirations. More specifically, it explores the circumstances in which individuals find that their outstanding tax debts pose a threat to their ability to maintain ownership of their home.

In this paper I use the facts of tax cases for two ends. First, I am interested in disrupting legal knowledge hierarchies. We choose cases to read in law school, to explore in case comments and other extended scholarly work, or to cite in advocacy not because of the people that have motivated them, but because of the legal development or doctrine the case represents. But if the purpose of law is to resolve human dilemmas and to help us address pressing public policy issues - which for some might be a contestable claim - then, as important as the legal doctrine is “what happened”: the story about why the parties find themselves in front of the court or administrative tribunal. These stories should help us infer something about the kinds of problems real people have and to discern places where our non-legal public policy solutions are lacking. Put another way, the facts of cases might be important in helping us reason backward to where there are fissures in the ways humans interact and in how our social, political, and economic systems generate tensions in their lives.

Second, I am interested in whether we could learn something about who we are from the stories that come out of cases; ignore the law altogether. Tax cases provide an unlikely and incomplete archive of the lives lived by those who appear before tax courts. Nevertheless, they can be useful in helping to render some otherwise hidden aspects of our lives visible.


This article has been published in a review form in the Canadian Journal of Law and Society []. This version is free to view and download for private research and study only. Not for re-distribution, re-sale, or use in derivative works. © Canadian Law and Society Association and Kim Brooks.