Apparently mutual funds that are based in offshore tax-haven countries (where there is no tax on dividends and capital gains), instead of paying out distributions, simply plough them back into the assets of the fund. This has the effect of letting such income and gains compound tax-free. (In countries like Canada and US, the fund company pays out distributions so that unitholders -- not the fund company -- will be responsible for the tax.)
I recall reading a couple of years ago that RevCan had closed a loophole in which Canadian taxpayers would buy such offshore tax haven mutual funds and, since those funds never paid distributions, let their investments compound tax-free. In closing the loophole, RevCan required Canadians who own such funds to pay tax on the accrued gains even though the taxpayer never actually received any payments. I don't recall the details of how this is done, i.e. how the amount of dividends and/or capital gains is determined. Perhaps, like the above amendment, all annual increases in the value of the investments are treated as ordinary income. That would certainly discourage the use of offshore funds :-)
In any case, perhaps the intent of the proposed amendment is not to penalize all foreign ETFs, but only those that are based in offshore tax havens. US-based ETFs like SPYs, QQQs, and iShares do pay out distributions (albeit smaller ones than conventional non-indexed mutual funds) so they're already taxed today under existing rules.
If the prosposed amendment is indeed targetted at US ETFs then it's draconian to say the least. Someone should determine if this is the case, and if so, we need to launch a campaign against it. I'll be glad to help, but so far I've been unable to find any information about this at the CCRA, Finance or Parliamentary websites using any of their search engines or on any of their "what's new" or "press releases" pages. I guess it's hard to mount an objection to something you can't find :-)
P.S. to Jon, when you receive e-mails such as the one from DF, do you tell the sender that you'll post their e-mail on TWB and [hint, hint] invite them to come on TWB to discuss the issues they've raised? If not, you should.