A Nelson courtroom finally heard from Warren Fischer Wednesday during sentencing submissions.

Nelson man convicted of tax evasion makes tearful plea

A traditional Chinese medicine doctor convicted of income tax evasion says he didn't know he was doing anything illegal.

A traditional Chinese medicine doctor convicted of evading more than $60,000 in income taxes says he didn’t know he was doing anything illegal.

Speaking under oath during his sentencing hearing Wednesday, a tearful and apologetic Warren Fischer said he hadn’t intended to break the law and thought he’d found a legitimate method to avoid paying taxes when he began claiming natural person status and following the teachings of the Paradigm Education Group.

But after being arrested June 25 and spending 38 days in jail, including 17 in 24-hour lockup, he realized the serious trouble he was in.

Fischer hired Shawn Buckley, a Kamloops-based personal injury lawyer, to represent him during sentencing, and sat quietly in the courtroom until he took the stand.

Members of the Sovereign Squamish Government who stood outside the courthouse with Fischer in peaceful protest during his trial were noticeably absent, and instead the public gallery was packed with more than 60 of Fischer’s patients, students and family members.

The multi-million dollar liens he’d earlier issued against members of Canada Revenue Agency and other officials involved in the case had been removed.

“I understand your job is difficult, and I apologize for making it more difficult,” Fischer told Judge Lisa Mrozinski, explaining he now understands the separation between government and the courts and, in fact, respects the court’s work.

He said he avoided paying income tax because he didn’t want his money supporting war efforts. In 2007 and 2008 Fischer filed tax returns claiming no income and in 2009 he claimed a net loss of $150,000.

During that period he declined to cash GST cheques issued to him and mailed his health card back to the government to prevent him from using medical services.

However he continued to pay property taxes, which fund local services, and corporate taxes for the Academy of Classical Oriental Sciences, which he co-founded.

“I felt that I was contributing, while still taking a personal stand against the war,” Fischer explained.

He said he plans to speak to a financial planner to find a legal way to avoid income tax, which will likely involve him working for a certified charity that will take the majority of his earnings.

Fischer has already turned many of his assets over to family members — including the Academy and a home he built himself in Uphill. Buckley explained Fischer recently organized his affairs so that much of his income goes to the Sovereign Squamish Government, who cover his housing and medical expenses and pay him a monthly salary of $1,200. His net income, if he were keeping it for himself, would be less than $70,000, according to Buckley. He also said Fischer has around $78,000 in credit card debt and recently received notice of a $193,000 debt owing to Canada Revenue Agency.

Buckley said because of Fischer’s limited ability to pay a large fine, he should get the mandatory minimum — a 50 per cent fine and no further jail time.

He pointed out that Fischer is practicing traditional Chinese medicine (though not in good standing with the College of Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioners) and sees 50 to 60 patients per week. He also teaches 60 students at the Academy of Classical Oriental Sciences.

“It hurts his patients and the students, having him locked up,” Buckley said.

The court received numerous letters vouching for Fischer and explaining his vital role in the community. Some of his students and patients shared their experience with the judge.

Mrozinski acknowledged Fischer is respected, but found it troubling that many of the letters minimized his crimes, calling the taxes he evaded a “paltry sum” and not understanding why anyone would be convicted for such actions.

“Nobody seems to care about what he did,” Mrozinski lamented.

Crown prosecutor Nils Preshaw is calling for a 100 per cent fine and one year in jail. He maintains Fischer is not a “conscientious opposer” of the war and greed, not politics, motivated him to evade taxes.

He pointed to income statements prior to 2006 showing Fischer earned six-figure salaries and believes he would be able to pay a fine.

Fischer, who is on bail, will be back in court October 22 to hear his sentence.

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