CRA recommends unmuzzling charities

The BC Humanist Association joins leading Canadian charities in applauding a report released today that calls for a regulatory and legislative overhaul "to enable charities to fully participate in public policy dialogue and development."

The coalition of charities, formed in response to the political activities audits under the previous government, had called for a new law to protect the ability of charities to speak out on public policy issues.

The report was written by a panel of five experts charged by the Minister of National Revenue with giving recommendations for a new legislative framework to strengthen the charitable sector. The report recommends that the rules governing the freedom of Canadians to speak be enhanced by removing prohibitions on participation in public policy development by charities they support. It recommends that the antiquated laws which govern the 86,000 Canadian charities be replaced so as to prevent further infringements on freedom of speech.

The charities are requesting the Federal Government immediately table a bill to implement the recommendations of the Expert Panel Report.

Specifically, the panel's recommends that the Government:

  1. Revise the CRA’s administrative position and policy (including CPS-022, Political Activities) to enable charities to fully participate in public policy dialogue and development.
  2. Implement changes to the CRA’s administration of the ITA provisions governing charities in the following areas: compliance and audits, appeals, and communication and collaboration.
  3. Amend the ITA by deleting any reference to non-partisan political activities to explicitly allow charities to fully engage without limitation in non-partisan public policy dialogue and development, provided that it is subordinate to and furthers their charitable purposes.
  4. Modernize the legislative framework governing the charitable sector.

The report notes how many rules are not uniformly enforced. It specifically singles out religious charities as an example of charities that have not been questioned for failing to include "all sides" in the materials they produce.

Ian Bushfield, Executive Director, BC Humanist Association:

It's clear that the panel has heard the voices of Canadians and Canadian charities loud and clear: Let us speak! Now the pressure is on the government to keep the commitments it was elected upon and update our antiquated charities laws.

We had hoped that the panel would also recommend a definition of charitable activity that would end the privilege afforded to religious charities and create equality between theistic and non-theistic worldviews.

We're also disappointed that the panel continues to recommend that charities be required to police their supporters speech on social media for partisan viewpoints.

This Panel was established as part of keeping a commitment made by the federal government in its mandate letter to the Ministers of National Revenue, Finance and Justice. In them Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asked them to “allow charities to do their work on behalf of Canadians free from political harassment, and modernize the rules governing the charitable and not-for-profit sectors”,..... “This will include clarifying the rules governing “political activity,” with an understanding that charities make an important contribution to public debate and public policy. A new legislative framework to strengthen the sector will emerge from this process.”

While the government decides its response to the report, the Hon Diane Lebouthillier, Minister of National Revenue, announced a halt to ongoing political activities audits.

The BC Humanist Association made written and oral submissions to the consultation in late 2016.

Read the report

 

In the USA, President Trump today signed an executive order directing the IRS to effectively not prosecute faith-based organizations that directly support or oppose a political candidate. The BCHA stands with the American Humanist Association and others in opposition to this order.

Other reactions

Imagine Canada

Environmental Defence and 20 other organizations (including BCHA)

The Hon Diane Lebouthillier, Minister of National Revenue

 

Banner credit: Flickr/Obert Madondo

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