Madam Speaker, I want to begin by reiterating that our government is fully committed to fighting tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance. We are fully committed to ensuring that our tax system is transparent, responsive, and fair.
Our government recognizes that Canadians work hard, and expect their government to do the same to ensure that everyone pays their fair share. I would like to inform the House that Canada has one of the highest voluntary tax compliance rates in the world, with more than 90% of Canadians paying their taxes on time each year. The vast majority of Canadians work hard and follow the law.
Thanks to the millions of Canadians who pay their taxes every year from coast to coast to coast, we have provided health care, built libraries and schools, helped advance scientific research, maintained roadways, and provided access to clean drinking water. Canadians have worked hard to create a Canada that we are proud to live in. We have reached all this because Canadians pay their fair share of taxes.
However, there are those who are not willing to do their part, and avoid paying their fair share. It is unfortunate to know there are individuals and companies who try to avoid their tax obligations, and who avoid putting their share into the programs and services that all Canadians, including them, benefit from.
That is why cracking down on aggressive tax avoidance and tax evasions continues to be a priority for our government. Not only is it against the law, it is unfair to the millions of honest Canadians who pay their fair share. Tax cheats rob the government of the revenues it needs to deliver the programs that Canadians have come to rely on and need to improve their quality of life. Middle-class Canadians and those working hard to join it, who pay their fair share of taxes, rightfully expect the government to do its part to combat tax cheating.
This is why our government is taking historic steps to combat tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance. Funded by the investments of close to one billion dollars in budgets 2016 and 2017, we are transforming the Canada Revenue Agency into an organization that delivers results for Canadians, especially when it comes to delivering a fair tax system. This is what Canadians expect, and it is something that we will continue to deliver.
We believe Canadians deserve transparency into our efforts in fighting tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance. I would like to thank the finance committee for its recommendations. That is why we have made good on our commitment to be more open and transparent by making more information available to taxpayers about the results of the Canada Revenue Agency's compliance activities.
We have established a new level of transparency to report results to Canadians and to show would-be tax cheats the serious consequences of taking part in tax evasion and aggressive tax planning. These efforts also help deter those who may be considering abusive tax schemes that give false and misleading promises at the risk of legal consequences.
Transparency and education are not enough. That is why our government is also working diligently to identify those taxpayers who pose a risk to the integrity of the Canadian tax system and to take action. Thanks to the investments made in the last two years, the Canada Revenue Agency has now more auditors and better tools to detect and combat tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance.
We expanded our specialist audit teams that consider all multinational corporations for audit every year, and who focus on tax plans and status of ultra-high net-worth taxpayers. There is more. The Canada Revenue Agency's criminal investigations unit has undergone important changes to make sure serious tax evasion cases, such as those involving offshore transactions and money laundering, are referred for criminal prosecution. Such investigations are very complex. They may take several years to resolve and make their way through the courts.
It is clear that our plan is working. From the start of our mandate in 2015 through September 30, 2017, for offshore files alone, as of December 31, 2017 the Canada Revenue Agency has been conducting audits on more than approximately 1,100 taxpayers, and is criminally investigating more than 20 cases of tax evasion.
It will continue to apply penalties to all those cases of serious tax non-compliance. We are aggressively pursuing each and every case to make it clear to tax evaders, no matter where they are that the consequences and penalties of tax avoidance are severe.
However, this is just one part of the solution. Tax evasion and aggressive tax planning are complex issues, and combatting them requires long-term concerted efforts. Furthermore, the issue of tax havens demonstrates quite clearly that tax cheating remains a significant global multi-billion dollar issue that transcends borders.
As a result, Canada is working closely with our international partners to share and receive information. We are making it far more difficult for wealthy individuals and corporations to hide money in offshore jurisdictions and avoid paying their fair share.
I am very proud to report that our efforts are paying off. We have access to more domestic and international financial account information than ever before. Already, Canada has one of the most extensive tax treaty networks in the world. We have improved our ability to link information from various sources, domestic and international, so we can better identify those taxpayers most likely to be avoiding their tax obligations.
We will close in on any wealthy individuals or corporations that try to avoid paying their fair share of taxes. While the confidentiality provisions in the Income Tax Act prevent the Canada Revenue Agency from commenting on specific cases, through our collaboration with international partners we have been identifying and taking action against those who are evading and avoiding taxes and breaking the law.
In 2017, the Canada Revenue Agency began receiving country-by-country reports from multinationals to help spot profit shifting, and more information to risk assess taxpayers who may be aggressively avoiding or evading taxes offshore. Furthermore, we will begin to receive international banking information in 2018. Canada will be able to automatically exchange information with other countries to identify taxpayers with offshore accounts, through the OECD's common reporting standard.
With focused efforts and changes to the law, Canada shut down some gifting tax shelter schemes that at one point included more than 48,000 participants. We want a tax system that is fair for all Canadians and we are taking steps needed to make this a reality.
Additionally, thanks to the investments made by our government, the Canada Revenue Agency's large file risk assessment systems were also featured globally by the OECD in 2017. They are world-class and global best practices, which is why Canadians can be proud that other international tax administrations are looking for Canada to help improve their systems.
Canada's leadership and contribution to international best practices in this area is providing Canadians with a revenue agency that is a world-class tax and benefit administration. Canadians expect no less from us, and we are delivering on our promises. As a result of system improvements, we now have the capacity to risk assess 100% of large business tax returns filed every year; therefore, improving its ability to identify high risk transactions, and to ensure that those who choose to break the law are exposed and made to face the consequences.
Our government is also focusing on promoters of abusive schemes, and wealthy taxpayers who can afford to pay for the expertise to navigate the tax laws. We have levied approximately $44 million in penalties in 2017 to tax professionals who facilitate these schemes. We are making it absolutely clear that we are not just going after tax evaders, but those who actively are involved in aggressive tax avoidance.
The government has also put in place a paid informant program, and has access to all international electronic fund transfers over $10,000, and is analyzing the data in conjunction with other business intelligence.
The CRA is using a jurisdiction and/or financial institution of concern approach to identify high-risk transactions and potential offshore aggressive tax avoidance and evasion, and has committed to reviewing all international EFTs to and from four offshore jurisdictions and financial institutions of concern per year. Canadians can be proud that, thanks to our government's actions, Canada plays a key role in international intelligence when it comes to combatting overseas tax abuse.
All of these efforts and results serve to underline why the Canada Revenue Agency does not need to depend on leaked lists, such as the paradise papers, to fight tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance. Thanks to our government's historic investment in the Canada Revenue Agency, the agency is already well under way in carrying out its work in identifying and pursuing those who are not paying their fair share long before the leak occurs.
Furthermore, in December 2017, the Minister of National Revenue announced the tightening of the voluntary disclosures program to reflect our confidence in detecting aggressive tax planning. These tighter rules will mean that individuals who participate in sophisticated tax planning will face the full consequences of their actions and do not simply get to walk away from paying the taxes owed. This decision means that cases may take longer, but we believe that this is just one option, and the one that Canadians would expect.
The Canada Revenue Agency has also begun to review selected neighbourhoods to better compare lifestyle to income, particularly where corporations, trusts, or non-residents own residential property. This will help us to better identify the taxpayers who are most likely to be avoiding their tax obligations.
Our government has laid some extremely important groundwork. It is early, but as the Canada Revenue Agency works through an ever-growing roster of audits and investigations, the analysis of recent data leaks and international benchmarking tells us that we have made progress on detecting and taking action.
Voluntary payment of tax, which is the ultimate goal of compliance work, continues to show upward trends. Canadians work hard to support their families and pay their taxes, and the Canada Revenue Agency is working hard to ensure that nobody avoids paying their fair share. Our effort is crucial in ensuring that the Government of Canada can deliver the programs that hard-working Canadians rely on and deserve.
What remains an issue is the aggression and motivation of those undertaking aggressive tax planning. The battle is now the issue of legal challenges to conducting audits, requests for information, as well as legal challenges to exploit unintended loopholes. Aided by a historic investment, the Canada Revenue Agency is working to address this through more resources, better data, and better approaches to make sure that those who choose to break the law face the consequences. The Government of Canada will not stand by and let those who choose to cheat drain resources from the services that need funding to improve the quality of life for all Canadians.
All of these efforts outline the Canada Revenue Agency's continued excellence in service, compliance, integrity, security, and innovation. The agency continues to improve its transparency and accountability to Canadians. No one is above the law. There are millions of hard-working Canadians who follow the law and pay their fair share, and they rightfully expect others to do just the same. That some individuals and companies continue to try to evade their taxes is unacceptable. This is why our government will continue to work hard to crack down on tax cheats. Canadians expect nothing less, and it is what our government will continue to deliver.