Tories putting a muzzle on charitable groups

As a senior and a social activist, I am aware of the longstanding Canada Revenue Agency regulations on prohibited political activities for Charities.

  • Jul. 30, 2014 2:55 p.m.

Re: Audits on prohibited political activities for charities

As a senior and a social activist, I am aware of the longstanding Canada Revenue Agency regulations on prohibited political activities for Charities. A landmark policy statement from 2003 allows charities to spend up to 10 per cent of their resources on political activities, such as advocating changes in government policies. Partisan activity, endorsing a candidate or party, has always been forbidden and remains so.

On the local and provincial level, I know that this regulation has been a damper on a number of organizations (who are also registered charities) to speak out on provincial and federal policies on health care, pensions and seniors issues.

While fearing CRA audits, some have totally abandoned advocacy; and while remaining silent on government legislation affecting their members and citizens in general, have left discussion strictly to the political arena.

This has done and is doing great harm to civil society, as the issues of the day need to be discussed in public debate. Opinion generated and supported by groups and organizations on behalf of members cannot be brought to our elected representatives for fear of prohibited political activities for charities being called.

It has caused citizens to tune out of being aware, and it has created a feeling of impotence and laissez-faire. This also may be a contributing factor in the low voter turnout in our elections.

On the national scene, government ministers have been extremely critical of any organization with differing opinions on environment, foreign aid or social issues. The CRA got new money for audits.

EthicalOil.org, a staunch supporter of Canada’s energy industry and founded by current Stephen Harper aide Alysha Valhi, issued a series of formal complaints to the agency about the political activities of environmental groups. The CRA readily acknowledges that complaints are taken into account when deciding which groups to audit.

A wave of audits was announced by the federal government in the 2012 budget, and some groups have been under threat of losing their charitable status for more than two years.

The list of targets includes Amnesty International Canada, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Canada Without Poverty, Environmental Defence, the David Suzuki Foundation and the United Church of Canada’s Kairos charity, run with 10 other religious organizations to promote human rights.

An investigation by The Canadian Press has found numerous charities targeted with political-activity audits, from environment to international aid and human-rights groups. Many say they are being slowly drained of cash for legal and other costs and fear speaking out; many are still awaiting outcomes.

The Conservative government has stepped up its scrutiny of the political activities of charities, adding fresh money for more audits, and casting its net well beyond the environmental groups that have opposed its energy policies.

Canada Revenue Agency, ordered in 2012 to audit political activities as a special project, now has also targeted charities focused on foreign aid, human rights and even poverty.

Revenue Minister Kerry-Lynne Findlay rejects any claim that the government is using the tax agency as a weapon against its opponents, saying the initiative is simply about good stewardship over taxpayer dollars.

But new regulations may be coming, including: Canadian charities would have to turn over lists of their donors’ identities to the Canada Revenue Agency under a proposal being floated by the Conservative government. The move is touted as a way to prevent tax-receipt fraud, but some charities are wary of the administrative burden and the potential close surveillance of groups that criticize government policies.

All this raises great concerns that the charitable organizations, local provincial and national, supported by Canadians for the purpose of advocacy will be stifled and bogged down by government bureaucracy driven by partisan ideology. It places a chill on critical nonpartisan review of provincial and federal legislation tabled and implemented by majority government.

We simply cannot rely on the docile and silent backbench politicians to defend us in caucus. We need the vigour of civil society to reveal the issues and to advocate on our behalf.

Charities must be allowed to do the job we contribute towards them to do. The tax deductions we receive are part of our democratic right.

I call upon the Harper government to stop the partisan motivated audits of our respected charities. Call Earl Dreeshen, our MP, if you agree.

Sam Denhaan

Red Deer

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