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Why haven’t any Harper-friendly charities been scrutinized PDF Print E-mail
Justice News
Written by Joan Russow
Saturday, 24 January 2015 20:06

Why haven’t any Harper-friendly charities been scrutinized:

by Edward Kenan Toronto Star


Curiously, only charities that disagree with federal Conservative policies have been nailed by the taxman.

The latest charity to be busted by Canada Revenue Agency for "excessive political advocacy" is Dying With Dignity, which supports choice and dignity at the end of life.

It turns out charities in Canada — at least the ones the government doesn’t like — are forbidden from “exercising moral pressure.” As if that isn’t the entire point of charitable enterprises. The absence of the profit motive and of self-interest in those involved in such an organization virtually defines a charity. Without those two things, what’s left is the pressure of morality compelling people to do the right thing.

But that’s illegal for a charity, it turns out.

This news comes to us courtesy of the Canada Revenue Agency, acting on a $13-million mandate from Stephen Harper’s Conservative government to take a close look at charities the government thinks are engaged in “excessive political advocacy.” This crackdown on politicized goodwill most recently busted the do-gooders at Dying with Dignity, who have been wielding contraband moral pressure in the service of their mission to provide information about patient rights, planning for end-of-life-care and the case for physician-assisted suicide. The auditors determined that its sins included “swaying public opinion, promoting an attitude of mind, creating a climate of public opinion” in addition to the already mentioned moral pressure tactics.

Now, to be clear, these charitable advocacy activities are only verboten if they might drive or prevent legislative change. The logic seems to be that tax breaks shouldn’t be used for any activities that might influence legislation. Except, of course, the tens of millions of dollars in tax exemptions and direct subsidies we give to political parties whose direct and immediate goal is to drive or prevent legislative change. Harper has actually been an innovator in this arena, inasmuch as, through “Canada’s Economic Action Plan,” he has abandoned mere tax breaks and the hassles of soliciting donations to spend millions of government dollars directly on advocacy to sway public opinion and drive legislative change.

The difference might be that in the latter cases, it is Stephen Harper himself creating a climate of public opinion and exerting moral pressure to achieve his own electoral and legislative goals. And in the case of charities, it is people who disagree with Harper doing it.

Is that an uncharitable assumption? Well, who has been caught up in the taxman dragnet? Environmental groups, free-expression advocates and the anti-poverty group Oxfam, which was informed that “preventing poverty” was not an allowable goal for a charity group.

Who has not been subject to an audit, at least not yet, that we know of? Well, conservative think tanks like the C.D. Howe Institute and the Fraser Institute, which regularly write policy papers directly advocating legislative change.

Or there’s Focus on the Family, whose research arm claims its mission is to “ensure that marriage and family-friendly policy are foremost in the minds of Canada’s decision-makers.” Hot topics on their website include strong endorsements of the Harper government’s new prostitution law and its income-splitting scheme, and condemnations of the federal NDP’s national child-care proposal and the Ontario Liberal government’s full-day kindergarten program. Perhaps their turn will come and their charitable status will be revoked for this blatant attempt to shape public opinion and influence legislation. Or perhaps not.

But doing that to Focus on the Family would just compound the idiocy of doing it to Dying with Dignity. The clear and obvious truth is that applying moral pressure to influence public opinion is a legitimate charitable activity, and a laudable one that provides great value to society. Our public debate is enriched when charitable enterprises — even those of contradicting viewpoints — are able to bring the information and perspective and arguments to our understanding of an issue, to motivate us to think about things, to influence us to donate our time or money or change our behaviour and, yes, to sometimes convince us to change the laws.

Of course, believing that to be so doesn’t just put me on the wrong side of Canada Revenue Agency’s interpretation of the charity laws, it puts me on the wrong side of this government’s entire approach to leadership. Harper’s government has hunted down and exiled information and arguments that might feed good public discussion and lead to intelligent legislation at every turn — from disembowelling the census through shutting down hundreds of research facilities to a justice minister saying bluntly, “We don’t govern on the basis of statistics, we govern on the basis of what we hear from the public . . . ”

Harper and his ministers clearly want to hear from a public that is untroubled by research, untainted by statistics and, now, sheltered from the advocacy of pesky charities. The better to shape, it seems, a government that is free from evidence, reason and the pressures of morality.

Edward Keenan is a Toronto Star columnist.


pej comment

  • joanRussow

Several years ago , I filed two complaints with Revenue Canada about the Charitable status of two organizations: The Conference of Defence Association, which receive substantial funding from the Harper government as well as having charitable status.

AND the Fraser Institute which is a right wing think tank that claimed one of its objectives was the "environment"; in fact in 1997 it organized a conference of climate change deniers.  I indicated to Revenue Canada that the Fraser Institute misrepresented its objective because to have an objective as the environment would not mean that the institute would support those who are deemed to undermine the environment. These two organizations never lost there status and I doubt that there expenses were scrutinize« less


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