The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Canada Revenue Agency says 'preventing poverty' not allowed as goal for charity

  • Print
Robert Fox (right), Executive Director of Oxfam Canada, answers a question during a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Monday December 7, 2009 as National Chairperson for the Council of Canadians Maude Barlow (left), and Director of the Sierra Club Canada John Bennett look on. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Enlarge Image

Robert Fox (right), Executive Director of Oxfam Canada, answers a question during a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Monday December 7, 2009 as National Chairperson for the Council of Canadians Maude Barlow (left), and Director of the Sierra Club Canada John Bennett look on. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

OTTAWA - The Canada Revenue Agency has told a well-known charity that it can no longer try to prevent poverty around the world, it can only alleviate poverty — because preventing poverty might benefit people who are not already poor.

The bizarre bureaucratic brawl over a mission statement is yet more evidence of deteriorating relations between the Harper government and some parts of Canada's charitable sector.

The lexical scuffle began when Oxfam Canada filed papers with Industry Canada to renew its non-profit status, as required by Oct. 17 this year under a law passed in 2011.

Ottawa-based Oxfam initially submitted wording that its purpose as a charity is "to prevent and relieve poverty, vulnerability and suffering by improving the conditions of individuals whose lives, livelihood, security or well-being are at risk."

The international development group, founded in 1963, spends about $32 million each year on humanitarian relief and aid in Africa, Asia, and Central and South America, with a special emphasis on women's rights.

But the submission to Industry Canada also needed the approval of the charities directorate of the Canada Revenue Agency, and that's where the trouble began.

Agency officials informed Oxfam that "preventing poverty" was not an acceptable goal.

"Relieving poverty is charitable, but preventing it is not," the group was warned. "Preventing poverty could mean providing for a class of beneficiaries that are not poor."

Oxfam Canada's executive director called the exchange an "absurd conversation."

"Their interpretation was that preventing poverty may or may not involve poor people," Robert Fox said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

"A group of millionaires could get together to prevent their poverty, and that would not be deemed a charitable purpose."

The Canada Revenue Agency prevailed, and the official declaration to Industry Canada about the purposes of the non-profit corporation dropped any reference to preventing poverty.

"Our mission statement still indicates we're committed to ending poverty, but our charitable (purposes) do not use the word 'end' or 'prevent' — they use the word 'alleviate.'"

Philippe Brideau, spokesman for the Canada Revenue Agency, declined to provide information on the disagreement with Oxfam, saying "we do not comment on specific cases."

However, he said legal precedents mean charities cannot help people not already impoverished from falling into poverty.

"Purposes that relieve poverty are charitable because they provide relief only to eligible beneficiaries, those in need," Brideau said in an email.

"However, the courts have not found the risk of poverty as being equivalent to actually being in need. Therefore, as the courts have indicated, an organization cannot be registered with the explicit purpose of preventing poverty."

He added that charities are still allowed to teach money management, budgeting and other life skills, which could lead to the prevention of poverty.

Oxfam Canada was singled out for criticism earlier this year by Employment Minister Jason Kenney over the group's opposition to Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

And in July last year, Oxfam Canada signed a joint letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, taking issue with reports that government officials had been asked to compile "friend and enemy stakeholder" lists to brief new ministers after the summer cabinet shuffle.

Fox said that despite the new "purpose" statement, the group's programs and activities have not changed.

The contretemps is yet more evidence of frosty relations between the Harper government and some charities, several dozen of which have been targeted since 2012 for audits of their "political activities."

The Canada Revenue Agency, armed with $13 million in special funding, is currently auditing some 52 groups, many of whom have criticized the Harper government's programs and policies, especially on the environment.

The list includes Amnesty International Canada, the David Suzuki Foundation, Canada Without Poverty, and the United Church of Canada's Kairos charity.

Pen Canada, a Toronto charity that advocates for freedom of speech, joined the ranks of the audited just this week. The group has raised alarms about the government's muzzling of scientists on the public payroll.

Charities have said the CRA campaign is draining them of cash and resources, creating a so-called "advocacy chill" as they self-censor to avoid aggravating auditors or attracting fresh audits. Auditors have the power to strip a charity of its registration, and therefore its ability to issue income-tax receipts, potentially drying up donations.

Oxfam Canada is not undergoing a political-activities audit, said Fox.

Chantal Havard, spokeswoman for the Canadian Council for International Co-operation, a coalition of international-aid charities that includes Oxfam, said she was not aware of any other members in mission-statement disputes with the CRA.

Follow @DeanBeeby on Twitter

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Inside peek at Real Pirates, new Manitoba Museum exhibit

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • A water lily in full bloom is reflected in the pond at the Leo Mol Sculpture Garden Tuesday afternoon. Standup photo. Sept 11,  2012 (Ruth Bonneville/Winnipeg Free Press)
  • A squirrel enjoys the morning sunshine next to the duck pond in Assiniboine Park Wednesday– June 27, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Are you still on the Bombers' and Jets' bandwagons?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google