Charity work is political


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By now it is undeniable the Harper government is systematically harassing charitable organizations that are critical of the government's agenda.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 12/05/2015 (2944 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

By now it is undeniable the Harper government is systematically harassing charitable organizations that are critical of the government’s agenda.

Since 2012, numerous charities that promote alternative policy ideas have been subjected to audit by the Canada Revenue Agency, and threatened with loss of their charitable status due to their political dissent and advocacy.

Meanwhile, no charities that support the Conservative agenda have been audited, despite their advocacy being equally political. A further manifestation of that agenda is evident in the concurrent downscaling of CRA staff and resources aimed at auditing individuals and corporations for tax evasion.

TOM HANSON / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Files David Suzuki looks at Canada’s ranking in a report released in 2005 by the David Suzuki Foundation, audited by the Canada Revenue Agency for its political activities.

For example, Ethical Oil, a not-for-profit organization with the mission to promote development of Alberta’s oil sands, and with multiple personnel who overlap with the Conservative Party of Canada, has filed formal complaints against at least six other charities, including The David Suzuki Foundation and the Sierra Club Canada, which were then audited. “Environmentalism” has been identified as a “domestic terrorist concern.” Other organizations under audit include Amnesty International Canada, Canada Without Poverty, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, and the United Church of Canada.

These audits have not only reduced the ability and willingness of charities to speak out, but have also had an impact on their ability to carry out their central missions. Being audited has the chilling effect that all forms of harassment do, significantly distracting organizations from their core work, and diverting precious financial resources toward legal advice.

As of March 31, the Canada Revenue Agency had completed 21 political-activity audits, with 28 still underway and 11 still to begin. So far, five charities have received notice of the agency’s intention to revoke their charitable status. (A full report on this can be found at

This campaign of harassment fails to understand the difference between the political and the partisan. In essence, politics is about policies, while partisanship is about parties. Ideas about policies are not one and the same as the parties who hold them. To be political is to advocate for policy that shapes the collective pursuit of collective goals, therefore it is impossible for any civic group to be apolitical. To be partisan is to officially, actively align with only one particular political party, therefore it is reasonable to require civic groups with charitable status to remain nonpartisan.

But to require voluntary civic organizations to be apolitical to maintain their charitable status is to require them to contradict their reason for being. Furthermore, to force them to go it alone without charitable status is to disadvantage and sometimes disable them, censuring their generation, deliberation, and implementation of new values and ideas, and discouraging civic engagement. Such top-down social stifling allows political partisanship to impair genuine public debate.

Surely charities have a right to promote their vision of a better Canada, as long as they do not propose that a particular party be empowered to enact it. Surely promoting their vision should not cause them to lose their charitable status, because that indeed is the charity they provide.

That is democracy in pursuit of the collective good, each charitable organization offering their values and ideas of how to implement those values to the public dialogue.

The current targeted intimidation and bullying of selected environmental, human rights, progressive policy, and international development organizations further damages democracy by eroding civil society.


Dennis Hiebert is a sociology professor at Providence University College.


Updated on Tuesday, May 12, 2015 8:04 AM CDT: Replaces photo

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