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.