Sorry for the interruption in blog postings; I’ve been travelling these past two days, largely out of wifi range and not in control of my schedule. Bad timing.
Before boarding the plane, I got the news that a federal party had asked questions in Parliament directly related to the findings in my thesis.
NDP revenue critic Murray Rankin and environment critic Megan Leslie called for an independent probe into the Canada Revenue Agency’s auditing of charities for their political activities.
In a July 16 letter to government Revenue Minister Kerry-Lynne Findlay Rankin and Leslie write that they “fear that the evidence strongly suggests that the Conservative government has been misusing the CRA to target its political opponents.” Canadian Press reports that Findlay’s office re-released a statement denying any political interference with CRA.
My thesis findings, which were widely published in Canadian media in two reports written by Canadian Press deputy-bureau chief Dean Beeby, found that the targeting by CRA has extended beyond environmental charities to also include international development/human rights organizations and charities receiving significant funds from labour unions. Beeby’s own legwork found that anti-poverty organizations are also being caught up in the audits.
The auditing, in short, seems to target charities of a “progressive” nature that have different ideas about the best public policies for Canada than does the current federal cabinet.
Previous researchers have warned that politicization of the CRA is underway and that this is not in line with Western democratic values and will damage our international reputation. My thesis pointed to a “funnel” created by the government that more or less pushes CRA toward auditing certain charities.
That funnel includes increased funding for auditing of charities’ “political activities” (which, though seemingly almost universally below the 10% of a charity’s resources that the current regulations allowed, tend to be higher in some charity sectors than others), and the presence of complaint letters from Ethical Oil in the CRA files of charities that are directly or indirectly involved in issues of climate change, oilsands expansion, pipelines, tankers, and ecosystem impacts of those industrial activities).
Also important is that Ethical Oil, an aggressive private activist organizations, was founded by a staffer of minister Jason Kenney who left to set up the organization and then returned to serve the party in the Prime Minister’s Office.
Any government has a variety of state tools at its disposal that can, but should not, be used to short-circuit debate and citizen participation in order to force through its own policy agenda. Those include the army, police, security apparatus, and tax authority. Even use of access to the media that government ministers enjoy to a level far above that of others should not be used to let loose with rhetoric that, for example, conflates charities, money-laundering, criminal organizations and terrorist organizations as has happened repeatedly since 2012.
The audits and associated rhetoric on the part of the current federal government is having an impact on the ability of charities to carry out their Missions. It is affecting some organization’s communication about issues that Canadians very much needs to discuss widely and deeply, and so is narrowing society’s conversations. And in creating the funnel and distracting charities from their important social purpose as civil-society participants, idea generators, alternative voices, the government’s actions are reducing the vigor of our democracy.
So, it’s good to see a political party weigh into the debate. It’s a fundamental principle of democracy that politicians do not corrupt the neutrality of the administrative functions and individual bureaucrats through politicization. I would think that all political parties have a long-term investment in that, including the party now in power.
Meanwhile, check out my Master’s thesis and feel free to forward and tweet it.
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.