Targeting Enviros for Audits an ‘Insidious’ Process


Has the fed­eral gov­ern­ment directly inter­fered in the oper­a­tions of Canada Rev­enue Agency (CRA), telling them which char­i­ties to audit for “polit­i­cal activ­i­ties”? Or is there some other way that the gov­ern­ment ensures the tax man tar­gets tthose char­i­ties advo­cat­ing for dif­fer­ent pub­lic poli­cies than those pur­sued by the cab­i­net? Espe­cially envi­ron­men­tal issues con­cern­ing the petro­leum industry.

It’s a ques­tion very much on the minds of the char­ity lead­ers and experts that I spoke to anony­mously in research­ing my the­sis, which asked what is the effect on char­i­ties of the denun­ca­tory rhetoric and audit­ing actions taken by the cur­rent fed­eral government.

Some char­ity lead­ers think that a cab­i­net min­is­ter sim­ply told senior CRA staff to audit cer­tain char­ity sec­tors, par­tic­u­larly envi­ron­men­tal orga­ni­za­tions and oth­ers doing energy-policy research and advo­cacy. Since then, I’ve found that other sec­tors have been tar­geted by CRA for inves­ti­ga­tion or audits, the sub­ject of my next post.

But the gov­ern­ment does not need to whis­per in anyone’s ear to get heard at CRA, and to point them in the desired direc­tion. First, remem­ber that in the 2012 fed­eral bud­get, while other min­istries had their fund­ing cut back, CRA was given an addi­tional $8 mil­lion over two years to, among other things, audit char­i­ties for “polit­i­cal activ­i­ties.” Mean­while, CRA has received many for­mal, lawyer signed, com­plaints against orga­ni­za­tions work­ing on energy-related issues, from Eth­i­cal Oil. That’s an activist orga­ni­za­tion that Green­peace has sug­gested is tied to Big Oil and was founded by a for­mer polit­i­cal staffer of cab­i­net min­is­ter Jason Ken­ney who was later hired into the Prime Minister’s Office.

So the money was there, and the direc­tive to step up audit­ing, and com­plaints were in the files of many, mainly envi­ron­men­tal, orga­ni­za­tions. And I was told by my par­tic­i­pants that envi­ron­men­tal orga­ni­za­tions tend to have more resources devoted to “polit­i­cal activ­i­ties” than some other sec­tors (they are per­mit­ted up to 10 per­cent of their resources to be used to pres­sure gov­ern­ment to change or keep poli­cies but few I inter­viewed said that they came any­where near that figure).

So, per­haps the min­is­ter spoke to a senior CRA man­ager who spoke to, a super­vi­sor, who spoke to a junior, and so on down the line. But many of the par­tic­i­pants agreed that a more “insid­i­ous” process, as one char­ity leader put it, could achieve the same result. After all, CRA staff can hear the gov­ern­ment rail­ing against envi­ron­men­tal­ists as clearly as any of us. And then

if the CRA takes their polit­i­cal direc­tion, which is to look at the “polit­i­cal activ­ity” of orga­ni­za­tions, and here are some resources to do that, and then they go and see what are the com­plaints against “polit­i­cal activ­ity,” then they can draw the con­clu­sion that that’s how they arrived at this par­tic­u­lar sector.

And that’s how the envi­ron­men­tal sec­tor may have been tar­geted for audits. And though I found that other sec­tors are also being tar­geted, the main focus is def­i­nitely on envi­ron­men­tal orga­ni­za­tions and oth­ers advo­cat­ing energy poli­cies that dif­fer from the cur­rent government’s stated goal of mak­ing Canada an energy super­power. A pol­icy that no doubt makes the petro­leum indus­try and its spin-offs very happy.

So, a cab­i­net min­is­ter does not have to directly instruct CRA harass­ment of any one sec­tor. The process could be politi­cized by con­struct­ing a fun­nel that points CRA in the direc­tion that the gov­ern­ment wants them to go. But politi­cized it clearly is.

But that just leads to more ques­tions for future blogs. What other sec­tors are tar­geted? Is CRA defin­ing “polit­i­cal activ­i­ties” dif­fer­ently than before, now view­ing any­thing that chal­lenges gov­ern­ment pol­icy as being “par­ti­san?” What is Eth­i­cal Oil and why are they lay­ing com­plaints against char­ity orga­ni­za­tions? Is there a strong con­nec­tion between Eth­i­cal Oil, the oil indus­try, the cur­rent fed­eral gov­ern­ment, and the Con­ser­v­a­tive Party of Canada?

Check out my Master’s the­sis.

I am a for­mer jour­nal­ist and media man­ager who recently com­pleted my Master’s the­sis for Royal Roads Uni­ver­sity and now work as a com­mu­ni­ca­tions pro­fes­sional. I have earned a Web­ster Award of Dis­tinc­tion, among other awards, for my reporting.

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