Government takes both sides on charities' free speech

The federal government has announced that it will repeal sections of the Income Tax Act that restrict the political activities of charities this fall, while simultaneously defending the restrictions in court.

In 2015, the Liberals campaigned on a promise to modernize rules governing Canada's charitable sector. This followed allegations that previous governments had used the rules to harass environmental and human rights charities it disagreed with. A consultation led by the new government recommended the rules be removed last year.

At the same time, an Ontario court struck down the rules as an unjustifiable infringement on the freedom of expression of charitable organizations. The federal government also said yesterday it will be appealing this ruling due to "significant errors of law."

Ian Bushfield, Executive Director, BC Humanist Association:

We welcome the long-awaited news that the government will be taking steps to unmuzzle Canadian charities. However, it still seems like the government is trying to talk out of both sides of its mouth. While they are calling for a change in law in the House of Commons, they will be arguing for the status quo in court. This leaves organizations across the country in legal limbo as no one knows what the rules are or what they will be.

The government has also not said that it will go as far as the Expert Panel recommended and fully modernize Canada's charitable framework, which would finally do away with our Victorian-era definition of what constitutes a charity.

The March 2017 Report of the Consultation Panel on the Political Activities of Charities recommended that the government:

  1. Revise the CRA’s administrative position and policy (including its policy guidance, CPS -022 Political Activities) to enable charities to fully engage in public policy dialogue and development.

  2. Implement changes to the CRA’s administration of the ITA in the following areas: compliance and appeals, audits, and communication and collaboration to enhance clarity and consistency.

  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 (ITA) to ensure a focus on charitable purposes rather than activities, and adopt an inclusive list of acceptable charitable purposes to reflect current social and environmental issues and approaches.

In their statement, the government committed to implement recommendation 3 to "allow charities to pursue their charitable purposes by engaging in non-partisan political activities and in the development of public policy."

Send a letter to call on the federal government to keep its commitment to update the law

Sign up to receive updates from the BC Humanist Association

Created with NationBuilder Creative Commons License