Tag Archives: Canada Revenue Agency

Why does Ottawa hate charity?

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I thank God Almighty that I am not a tax-exempt Canadian charity. The way I like to run my chops whilst simultaneously poking the bear that is Stephen Harper’s Conservative government virtually guarantees that the eternal vigilance of the Canada Revenue Agency would focus exclusively on me for the rest of my days.

PEN Canada’s president Philip Slayton knows what I mean. His organization represents about 1,000, mostly mouthy, writers. Their mission statement goes as follows: “PEN Canada is a nonpartisan organization of writers that works with others to defend freedom of expression as a basic human right, at home and abroad. (It) promotes literature, fights censorship, helps free persecuted writers from prison, and assists writers living in exile in Canada.”

Occasionally, the group issues news releases like this one in May:

“The Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act (Bill C-13), currently being discussed at the Standing Committee for Justice and Human Rights, would provide telecom companies with criminal and civil immunity for disclosing subscriber information to government agencies.

“According to information published following an access to information request by University of Ottawa Law professor Michael Geist, in 2011, nine of Canada’s major telecom providers and social media sites received 1.2 million data requests from government agencies. The companies complied in 784,756 cases. The total number of requests and disclosures from all telecom companies is likely higher.

“‘These figures give an idea of the government’s unsettling predilection for surveillance,’ said PEN Canada National Affairs Committee Chair William Kowalski. ‘If information has been volunteered this readily, then privacy would vanish if these practices became law.’”

So, perhaps, would any expectation of freedom of expression, which is kind of ironic, given PEN’s current straights. Earlier this week, two tax auditors arrived on the Toronto-based organization’s doorstep, demanding to be shown what The Canadian Press describes as “a wide range of internal documents.”

This was not exactly unexpected. Back in 2012, the Harper government announced that it was cracking down on so-called charities that pursue political “activities”, particularly those that it suspected of breaking the ten per cent rule – the proportion of time an organization can spend advocating outside the boundaries of is mandate and mission without compromising its charitable status.

Since then, The Canadian Press has uncovered more than 50 “political-activities” audits underway against a wide variety of groups, including Amnesty International Canada, The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Canada Without Poverty, and the David Suzuki Foundation.

The common thread is fairly plain. All are progressive, liberal, politically aware and archly critical of the current office-holders in Ottawa.

CRA officials, of course, deny any connection to operatives in government. This is, they say, just business as usual. “The process for identifying which charities will be audited, for any reason, is handled by the charities directorate itself and is not subject to political direction.” Cathy Hawara informed the Canadian Bar Association this spring, according to CP.

Maybe, but it does seem oddly coincidental. As for Mr. Slayton, he’s cooperating with the authorities, but he’s none too happy about it. “I refuse to let it have a chilling effect on us,” he to CP. “We are not going to have some kind of fear – about having our charitable status questioned by authorities – stop us speaking out on issues.”

Indeed, he said, “If it means you have to live in fear of the revenue authorities, and if it means that there are things you want to say, you feel you should say, but you feel you cannot because of the rules, well then, what price charitable registration?”

It’s a good question. And it’s worth pondering, awhile, how the federal government sets its priorities. Real fraudsters, con men and criminals ship their ill-gotten booty to tax havens all over the world. Somehow, though, politically active charities deserve the tax man’s vigilant eye.

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Catching the Tories in Bambi’s headlights

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Canada’s freshly cobbled Finance Minister Jim Flaherty says that the nation’s laws oughtn’t transform charitable foundations, which pay virtually no income taxes, into shelter accounts for fraudsters, money-launderers, terrorists, and organized criminals.

To which, the proper response might be: “Well, duh.”

In advance of today’s federal budget, Mr. Flaherty – his new shoes dutifully acquired from Toronto’s Mellow Walk Footwear – declared to media, “There are some terrorist organizations, there are some organized crime organizations, that launder money through charities and that make donations to charities and that’s not the purpose of charitable donations in Canada. We are being increasingly strict on the subject.”

What’s more, he said, “If the critics of the government (policy to close the apparent loophole) are terrorist organizations and organized crime, I don’t care.”

Sure, but that’s not really the nontaxable sixty-four-thousand dollar question.

If it were, then citizens of this country would have every right to demand what, exactly, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and Communications Security Establishment Canada – not to speak of America’s Central Intelligence Agency and National Security Agency and the co-dependent operations of Britain’s Secret Intelligent Service – have been doing in the authentic age of surveillance.

I mean, are we or aren’t we fully, bloodily and bodily exposed? And if the critics of the government are, in fact, terrorist organizations, then shouldn’t our “friendly” spies and spooks care rather deeply, even if our finance minister does not?

No, this is not about terrorists or money launderers or organized criminals. This is about that hemp-clad, plackard-waving, fossil-fuel hating, trust-fund baby boomer (and his millennial acolytes) who has roundly peeved Conservative office-holders, lo these many years.

According to the Toronto Star and other news organizations, the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) is systematically auditing environmental charities that continue to make a connection between fossil fuel production in Alberta and global warming.

It wants to know whether the organizations – Pembina Foundation, David Suzuki Foundation, Tides Canada and Environmental Defence, among others – are running afoul of the 10 per cent rule, which refers to the percentage of a charity’s time and money that may be spent on political or advocacy work as long as the activities are non-partisan in nature (that is, not aligned to particular parties).

John Bennett of the Sierra Club of Canada calls this “a war against the sector.”  Marcel Lauzière of Imagine Canada laments the “big chill out there with what charities can and cannot do.”

All of which may be true, but CRA’s government-sanction audits illustrate, if nothing else, that the sector has struck a nerve in Ottawa. Who knew that Bambi’s tree-hugger brigade would scare the scat out of the establishment fat cats in Ottawa?

In fact, it’s been a pretty good past couple of years for environmental groups bent on countering the federal government’s fondness for the oil sands. The effects of coordinated and aggressive publicity campaigns are especially noticeable in the United States, where the Obama administration continues to drag its feet on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

One recent poll by USA Today indicates that only a slight majority of Americans surveyed supported imports of oil sands crude from Alberta. “About 56 per cent say they favor the northern leg of the billion-dollar, Canada-to-U.S. project and 41 per cent oppose it, according to the poll of 801 U.S. adults completed last month by Stanford University and Resources for the Future (RFF), a non-partisan research group,” the newspaper reported last month.

Still, any government that deliberately targets for censure organizations with which it doesn’t agree, and whose growing influence it fears, runs a perilously close risk of trampling on some very hallowed democratic ground.

After all, if you name your organization “Environmental Defence”, apply for and receive charitable status, do you not also assume that your right to criticize official policy   on said environment is protected?

And what utter nonsense is the 10 per cent rule, anyway. All charities fill the gaps in the public and private sector’s attention to social detail. They exist to do precisely what their critics and detractors revile: advocate.

By all means, go after the evil-dowers who distort our charities for larcenous ends. But for the rest of the sector, let’s holster our six guns.

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