Senate committee recommends review of legal definition of charity

Recognizing that the laws governing Canadian charities are “outdated, convoluted”, a Senate committee is recommending a full review of whether Canada should define what a charity is in law.

Whether an organization can be registered as a charity is currently determined based on a list of "good, godly and charitable" purposes set out in the Statute of Elizabeth in 1601. Those purposes are the relief of poverty, the advancement of education, the advancement of religion and other purposes deemed beneficial to the community by the courts.

The BC Humanist Association and many other charities have been calling for a modernized legal framework to end uncertainty in the sector.

The Senate Committee on the Charitable Sector has been consulting on how to improve Canada's charitable sector. It's report Catalyst for Change was published today.

Among its 42 recommendations, it calls for "the Government of Canada, through the Advisory Committee on the Charitable Sector, review the common law meaning of charity to determine whether Canada should follow the approach of other jurisdictions, such as Australia and England, and enact legislation to broaden the legal meaning of charity."

The Committee notes in its report that the BCHA's submission critical of the "advancement of religion" as a charitable purpose was one of the only responses on what should be considered charitable in a future list of statutory categories. Most other Commonwealth countries have defined charity in law and England specifically recognizes the advancement of non-theistic worldviews as a charitable activity.

The report notes that to challenge a ruling by the Canada Revenue Agency that an activity isn't charitable could cost into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. The Committee recommends changes to bring clarity to which applications have been rejected and to enable more affordable appeals.

Read the Senate committee's report [PDF]

Image by Bart Burkels, Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0

Sign up to receive updates from the BC Humanist Association

Created with NationBuilder Creative Commons License