The branches of Jacques Bélanger’s family tree have gnarled through Canada’s bankruptcy system time and time again.
Between Bélanger, a disgraced chartered accountant and failed roofing company owner, his daughter and her ex-husband, the Quebec family has accumulated six personal bankruptcies and led at least two businesses into insolvency.
Altogether, their eight bankruptcies included millions of dollars owed to the Canada Revenue Agency and the provincial Revenue Quebec. Available records from the bankruptcies suggest the tax agencies and other creditors recouped less than $6,000 in total.
The Bélanger family’s revolving use of Canada’s bankruptcy system, intended to give a fresh start to an honest but unfortunate debtor, sticks out even in Quebec, a hotbed of repeat bankruptcy. From 2011 to 2018, 58 per cent of all Canadians filing bankruptcy for the third time were in Quebec, according to data provided by the Office of the Superintendent of Bankruptcy. The distinction is even more eye-popping when looking at fourth bankruptcies (74 per cent) and fifth bankruptcies (90 per cent).
Jacques Bélanger has been twice convicted of tax-related offences, most recently in 2018.
“My goal was not to avoid paying taxes. It’s that I just don’t have money left to pay,” Bélanger said in an interview. “I don’t live an extravagant lifestyle. I don’t roll around in a Mercedes. I don’t live in a fancy house…I don’t live a luxurious life at the expense of Revenue Quebec.”
Little documentation remains from 66-year-old Bélanger’s first bankruptcy. He declared insolvency in 1986 with nearly $180,000 in debts and $6,000 worth of assets. After a little more than a year, he received an absolute discharge and was washed of his debts.
By 2001, Bélanger was ensnared in new problems. He was convicted of tax offences and served several months in jail. A chartered accountant at the time, his licence was suspended for five years, despite his defence that his actions were conducted as the operator of a troubled business and not as an accountant. Bélanger said he has never sought to renew his licence.
Instead, he returned to bankruptcy, filing in 2003 with $5.7 million in total debts, almost all of it owed to tax agencies.
He declared his third bankruptcy in 2014, this time with $2.4 million in fresh debts, primarily to Revenue Quebec and the CRA. He was discharged in 2017.
Bélanger says the bankruptcies underscore how he is a victim of Revenue Quebec, which he accuses of rapaciously pursuing late payments with exorbitant interest and penalties.
“I want to make clear that I never exploited the system. I was just unlucky,” he said.
Despite his training as an accountant, he acknowledged that he could be “careless” when it came to managing the affairs of his roofing business. “The principles of running a business, I know them by heart…But I am the worst manager for myself.”
Around this time, his family began following his footsteps into insolvency.
In 2011, Toitures Bélanger et Filles, the family roofing business, went bankrupt with $510,000 in debts. Because his bankruptcy prevented him from being the company’s administrator, Bélanger said, the company was under his daughter’s name: Évelyne Gilbert-Bélanger.
“She was involved because she was my … representative,” Bélanger said.
In the year leading up to its bankruptcy, Belanger et Filles sold its equipment and assets for $123,000 to another numbered company, according to a note to creditors included in the bankruptcy file. The note states that the proceeds of that sale were deposited in the company’s bank account. “However, we were unable to trace a deposit of an equivalent amount in the debtor’s bank account,” the trustee told the creditors.
Records for the company that bought the equipment shows it was registered to a Daniel Fournier — the name of Évelyne Bélanger’s husband at the time — at an address also used by Bélanger et Filles.
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Évelyne Bélanger and Daniel Fournier, now divorced, both refused to comment.
A few days after the business filed for bankruptcy, so did Évelyne, owing personal debts of more than $2 million, mostly to Revenue Quebec and the CRA. After the trustee collected a little more than $1,600 from Évelyne’s estate for his services, there was nothing left for her creditors, according to records filed in her bankruptcy.
In 2012, it was her then-husband, Fournier, who turned to bankruptcy, owing close to $1 million in debts, primarily to a bank and tax agencies, according to a dividend sheet filed in his bankruptcy.
Around that time, the construction company 7876203 Canada Inc, declared its own bankruptcy. Fournier distanced himself from the company in court, saying he was merely an employee. However, in a 2018 ruling upholding the Quebec government’s decision to revoke Fournier’s contractor licence, the judge said Fournier was intimately involved in signing contracts and supervising the work. “For some companies, declaring bankruptcy can be a way of avoiding their obligations and not paying their debts,” the judge said.
In March, Fournier declared his second personal bankruptcy, which he blamed on “business failure” from losing his contractor’s licence.
The Bélanger family’s fingerprints are alleged to be all over another company’s financial demise.
In 2016, a separate roofing company that went under multiple names, including Toitures Bélanger et Filles, declared insolvency.
Guy Grandmaison was listed as the company’s administrator. In an interview, Grandmaison said he had joined Bélanger’s business after years of doing subcontracting work, and alleges it was Bélanger’s financial mismanagement that led the company to insolvency.
“That guy, he cost me $350,000,” Grandmaison said. “I left him the reins of the company. I trusted him and he ruined me.”
Bélanger denies the company’s insolvency was his fault.
In 2017, Revenue Quebec charged Bélanger, his daughter and her ex-husband with alleged tax offences. The tax agency said the charges against Évelyne were withdrawn and its case against Fournier is ongoing.
Jacques Bélanger pleaded guilty and said he was sentenced to 18 months of house arrest.
As part of his sentencing, he said he was ordered to repay Revenue Quebec $110,000. He says he has until the end of his 18-month sentence to figure out how — and if — he will pay.
“If I have the money, yes. If I don’t have the money, no. I can’t say anything else but that,” he said.