Tax inspectors get a bad rap. Even the Bible tars them as corrupt, avaricious sinners.
All the more reason, then, to equip these financial enforcers with skills to deflect the wrath of the masses — or just a sole suspected wrongdoer; a tax investigator scouring your property for fraud makes a less appealing target when she brings jiu-jitsu moves along with her ledger.
The Ministry of Finance has put out a call on the government tenders portal for “conflict management and self-defense training” for its tax inspectors and investigators. About 60 of them will go through the workshops to gird them for their field work starting this spring, according to the ministry.
“In these roles they may encounter situations that require conflict resolution skills to de-escalate a situation in a safe manner,” said ministry spokesperson Scott Blodgett in an email.
This won’t be the first time inspectors have been schooled in self-defence. Doug Ashton, a former Peel police officer and third-degree black belt in karate and jiu-jitsu, has led the sessions in the past.
“Anytime there’s interaction with members of the public in which you’re trying to gain compliance or potentially exercise any level of enforcement, there’s going to be conflict that will be generated,” he said. “Compliance” is, in fact, the branch where the ministry’s inspectors and investigators work.
Ashton draws on his martial arts background to teach “physical disengagement” – wrist-grab releases, clothing-grab defences, chokehold escapes. The training, peppered with jargon that blends bureaucracy with the military – “situational awareness,” “methods of escape and evasion,” “disengagement” – aims to ensure that public servants “don’t end up getting cornered in some little room in the back of a building.”
Some sessions incorporate professional actors to simulate confrontations. “The closer they can get to reality, the better we are,” according to Ashton.
Neither Ashton nor the ministry would lay out what specifically the training this spring will entail, citing safety concerns. They both stress that physical training is only one component of a wider workshop designed to avoid conflict and scale down confrontation.
“If they can manage these types of conflicts, de-escalate them, move forward and complete their task at hand without anyone getting injured or complaints or problems, then everybody’s better off,” Ashton said.
One technique, for example, is to “empower” the interviewee by asking: “What’s going to work so that you’ll end up complying with the request,” he said. “That puts the ball into their court.”
In the course of their work, investigators often conduct interviews with accountants, lawyers and board directors – known more, perhaps, for their dominance of spreadsheets, litigiousness or competitive spirit than for physical confrontation. Generally, investigations mean more time poring over bank accounts, motor vehicle purchases and property records than grilling gun-toting tax cheats.
“Ministry personnel, they’re not necessarily getting into these types of confrontations on a daily basis; they’re getting into these things on an occasional basis,” Ashton noted.
He said that in the past his company, which bears the vaguely Orwellian name of The Control Institute, has trained staff at the Canada Border Services Agency as well as the Ontario ministries of environment, labour, education, and the attorney general.
While conflict management in general is what Ashton teaches, it was his martial arts expertise in particular that put him on the path to his current vocation, he said.
The Ministry of Finance procurement contract request went online Nov. 16 and expired Jan. 8.
“As part of a regular review by MOF [Ministry of Finance] management, it was determined by management that enhanced training is required for MOF inspectors and investigators as a control measure to mitigate health and safety risks and manage conflict in the field such as verbal confrontations,” the ministry spokesperson said.