Charity audits raise serious questions
Saturday, Aug 09, 2014 06:00 am
Despite the federal auditor general’s concerns about its efforts to track and deter “aggressive” tax planning that can become tax evasion, and the major staffing cuts that critics say will hamper its ability to serve Canadians, the Canada Revenue Agency is aggressively auditing various charitable organizations to see if they’re using too much of their money for political activities. This comes after charities such as Tides Canada, that have criticized the Harper government’s plans to build oil pipelines such as Northern Gateway, have been attacked by the government as receiving money from foreigners for their activities.
By itself, this wouldn’t necessarily be a problem. These pipelines are Canadian projects, and Canadians are the only ones who should be deciding on them. However, the way the CRA is handling these audits is disturbing, to say the least.
A list of the charities being audited includes the likes of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, PEN Canada, Canadians Without Poverty, and other organizations that have criticized various aspects of the Harper government’s agenda. The audits are justified by seeing how much money these organizations are dedicating to political activities. If that’s the case, then why aren’t organizations like the Fraser Institute, the C.D. Howe Institute, and the Macdonald-Laurier Institute being audited? All of these institutions regularly comment on political issues, so why are they not being audited? Is it because the Harper government is more inclined to agree with their stances? The Fraser Institute justified its activities by saying that they were for education, not advocacy. If that’s the case, then what’s the difference between the education offered by the Fraser Institute and the education offered by the Canadian Centre For Policy Alternatives? Why is one singled out, and not the other?
To make matters worse, the government is also contemplating forcing charities to provide lists of their donors’ identities. This risks making people less willing to donate if their names are made public and they’re concerned about repercussions. The government justified getting rid of the long-form census because it said it wanted to respect Canadians’ privacy. In that case, why is the government suddenly now concerned about where Canadians send their charitable dollars?
The net effect of these audits, according to some reports, has been to cause a “chill” among many of the charities being audited. They are forced to take time and money away from their regular activities to respond to the audits, and are uncertain whether they’ll even be able to survive.
That’s very bad by itself.
But what’s also very bad about these audits are the optics behind them. Why are all these audits happening now, all at the same time? It just reinforces the perception that the Harper government is attacking anybody that dares to disagree with its goals, particularly its energy agenda. This won’t build public support for the pipelines that are so critical for Alberta to get its energy resources to new markets.
All this does is make things worse for both Canadian charities and the energy industry.
Jared Milne is a St. Albert resident with a passion for Canadian history and politics.