When you say the deadline is midnight on May 5, does that include the entire day of May 5? Or should midnight be interpreted as the start of the day on May 5, that is, a moment straddling May 4 and 5?
This issue comes to mind because of the phrasing Canada Revenue Agency has used in announcing an extended income tax filing deadline on its website: “2014 tax returns filed by midnight May 5, 2015, will not incur interest or penalties.”
The agency also sent a mass email to tax preparation firms that was meant to clarify: “For individuals filing their 2014 income tax and benefit returns, late filing penalties will not be applied to returns filed by midnight on May 5th (local time), regardless of the filing method.”
So, is midnight May 5 straddling:
a. May 4 and May 5?
b. May 5 and May 6?
There doesn’t appear to be a consensus.
My Canadian Oxford Dictionary is not helpful. Its definitions for midnight are:
a. 12 o’clock at night.
b. The middle of the night.
But, to be fair, the Canadian Oxford is a descriptive dictionary; it is describing reality when it is being vague.
I think the Canada Revenue Agency when it says “midnight May 5” means to include all of May 5. That’s because it also refers to a deadline of May 5 without specifying an hour. But that’s me guessing.
For clarity, because we can’t agree, we should avoid using “midnight” when precision is necessary, and where context isn’t enough.
So, instead of midnight May 5, we should say 11:59 p.m. May 5.
Or 12:01 a.m. May 6.
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Canada Revenue Agency officially extended its income tax filing deadline to May 5 after this sequence of events.
Friday, April 24: Email sent to tax preparers saying deadline was extended to May 5, from April 30.
Monday, April 27: Email sent cancelling the extension; the April 24 email was sent in error, agency said. Tax preparation people alarmed.
Tuesday, April 28: Concern about retracted deadline extension reaches minister responsible for Canada Revenue Agency. She makes the deadline extension official.
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A reader points out that using the 24-hour clock, midnight is the beginning of the day. The day comes to an end with 23:59:59 (11:59:59 p.m.) and begins with 00:00:00, which is midnight.
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I found this discussion, which didn’t come to a firm conclusion about what midnight means. It highlights the dissension.
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In context, midnight is fine. “I was doing my taxes at the last minute on May 5 and finished just before the midnight deadline.”
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A notice that involves people in multiple time zones needs to be more precise than just “midnight May 5”; it needs say whether that’s local time or a specific time zone.
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