Government unmuzzles charities

As of last Thursday, charities have been freed of restrictive and arbitrary limits on so-called political activities.

The BC Humanist Association joined numerous environmental and human rights charities to advocate for the changes. The restrictions and related audits had contributed to an advocacy chill and infringed on charities' free speech.

Bill C-86, the Government's fall budget implementation act, included provisions that repealed restrictions in the Income Tax Act on the political activities of charitable organizations. In its place the government explicitly recognizes that "public policy dialogue and development activities" can be carried out to further a charitable purpose. Charities are still prohibited from providing direct or indirect support or opposition to any political party or candidate (partisan activities).

Ian Bushfield, Executive Director, BC Humanist Association:

We're pleased that Parliament has passed these changes.

In our work advocating for the rights of the nonreligious and for a more secular BC, we are inevitably in contact with politicians and policymakers. With the new rules, we don't have to be concerned about whether a specific email is more about educating the public about their rights or if it's going to be seen as advocating for policy changes.

At the same time, this is but a small update to what is otherwise still an antiquated charity regime. We still need a modernized charity framework in Canada, including a definition of charities that does not privilege the "advancement of religion" over nonreligious worldviews.

A history of the BC Humanist Association's work toward charity reform in Canada

January 2015: The BCHA expressed concern over the revocation of Dying With Dignity Canada's charitable status following the CRA's political activities audits.

May 2016: The BCHA signed onto the Voices-Voix Declaration, which called asked the government to "Permit charitable organizations to advocate for their mandates without restriction and implement, in consultation with the sector, solutions that eliminate political interference in their work." BCHA Executive Director Ian Bushfield also spoke about the restrictions at the BCHA's Vancouver Sunday Meeting.

November 2016: The BCHA responded to the CRA's political activities consultation. The BCHA participated at an in person round-table discussion in December.

May 2017: The BCHA welcomed the CRA's consultation report that recommended repealing the political activities restrictions.

May 2018: The BCHA joined a letter writing campaign to the Prime Minister calling on him to take up the recommendations of the CRA's report.

July 2018: The BCHA welcomed a decision by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice striking down the political activities restrictions as an unconstitutional limit on freedom of expression.

September 2018: The BCHA wrote to the Special Senate Committee on the Charitable Sector asking Senators to support a modernized charities framework, including the repeal of political activities restrictions. The Government also released its draft bill to lift the restrictions, which the BCHA characterized as falling "far short of the mark".

October 2018: The government introduced its budget implementation act, including the full repeal of the political activities restrictions.

Other voices on the changes

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