Charity, is thy name propaganda?

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The abbreviated phrase, “pot-kettle-black”, suddenly comes to mind upon learning that a charity with affiliations to high-profile Conservatives is sending mixed messages to the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) about its political proclivities.

In an intrepid piece of reporting this week, Globe and Mail reporter Bill Curry revealed that, “A review of Tribute to Liberty’s official filings with the CRA reveals a clear intention to engage in political activity. When asked if it planned to engage in political activities, it answered ‘Yes’ in its 2009 application for charitable status. It said this would involve contacting MPs and senators to gain their support for (a project to build an edifice commemorating so-called victims of communism).”

Meanwhile, Curry notes that “in the five years that followed, the charity answered ‘No’ each time it was asked by the CRA in annual reporting forms whether it conducted political activity.”

Why does any of this matter? If the report holds true, the misdemeanor has to do with forked tongues and the preservation of said organs in the halls of federal influence.

We shan’t forget that since 2012, Canadian charities – especially those that are decidedly cool to Tory social policies – have come under increasing scrutiny by the tax man for their various propensities to agitate for political change in this country.

As Curry points out, “the 2012 Conservative budget set aside $8-million for CRA audits to determine whether (charities) are following rules regarding political activity. The CRA has not published a list of the 60 charities it has identified for auditing. However, some of the groups that said they were audited were critical of government policy. The CRA has rejected suggestions the selection was politically motivated.”

Still, Tribute to Liberty reportedly maintains fairly compelling ties to certain high-ranking Tories. Not only that, the organization’s website boasts fulsome quotes from national leaders of every ideological stripe.

Here’s NDP honcho, Thomas Mulcair on the subject of freedom: “Dear Friends: I am pleased to extend support to Tribute to Liberty as you realize your vision for a permanent memorial in Ottawa recognizing the victims of communism. This monument will recognize those who were silenced by tyranny and pay tribute to the incredible strength and determination of those who fought for change.”

Here’s Justin Trudeau: “We, as Canadians, must never forget the pain and suffering entire generations endured under Communist rule, and it is important that we remember the lives of its untold victims.”

Here’s Elizabeth May of the Green Party: “We can be proud, as Canadians, that we opposed totalitarian communism and have provided a land of refuge for so many of those who fled its terrors.”

And, of course, here’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper: “Canada has long been a beacon of hope and freedom for those escaping tyranny and oppression.”

All of which raises the question: How is any of this not political?

In fact, this may be the only instance in recent history when all political parties in this country have agreed, and all various polemics have aligned as the universe intends.

In its own defence, Tribute to Liberty claims that it has deliberately avoided archly political activities since 2009. But when the raison d’etre of an entire organization is nothing but political, how many hairs must be split before the emperor wears no wig?

In fact, I’m all for Tribute to Liberty’s mission. Memorializing those who suffered under the yoke authoritarianism is a decidedly virtuous, Canadian thing to do.

But, should we not, then, raise the injunction against vocal agitation on all politically minded charities?

If only for democracy’s sake.

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