North-South Institute Latest Victim of Government Funding
Two stories—the first a news report September 10 2014 in the Ottawa Citizen by Blair Crawford and the second an opinion piece in the Globe and Mail written by Paul Martin, Ed Broadbent and Joe Clark—explore the closure of the world-renowned Canadian development think-tank, the North-South Institute after the federal government cut off funding. The North-South Institute is merely the latest in a long line of government funding cutbacks, firings, and censorship of civil-society organizations, employees, and scientists.
CRA Audits: Due Process or Danger To Democracy
Larry Brown, president of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, was published September 22 on the website of the National Union of General Employees, of which he is national secretary-general. He accuses the federal government of undermining democracy by undermining the right of dissent, intimidating groups into silence over fear of being audited, and through a lack of transparency about who is being selected for audits and why and about definitions and perhaps redefinitions of terms such as “political activity.” These are essentially the findings of my thesis.
CRA Targets Local Naturalist Club
This September 20, 2014 Record opinion piece by Roger Suffling, an adjunct planning professor, shares the experiences of a local naturalist club with CRA, including receiving a five-page post-audit “letter” (one of three such letters said to have been written in relation to “political audits”) warning them to avoid any partisan activities. Suffling makes an error of conflating political activities and partisan activities in this piece, but makes a strong point about the club’s subsequent choices to avoid publicly commenting on issues that fall under its mission. And thus, he notes, the government has, through the CRA, “silenced” a small local group for voicing public concern.
CRA To Cut Staff
Bill Curry of the Globe and Mail reports September 19, 2014 that even as it increases focus on auditing charities for ‘political activities,’ CRA is reducing staff and attention to catching tax evaders and offshore tax cheats. At particular risk are veteran staff who know the ins and outs of offshore tax schemes used by wealthy Canadians to dodge paying their proper share of federal taxes—at the very time that overseas tax evasion is growing as a problem. Some 360 staff are at risk from a spending freeze in the 2014 budget.
Over 400 Academics Tell CRA to Leave CCPA Alone
There are two reports here. The first, by Dean Beeby at Canadian Press, explores the letter by more than 400 academics demanding that the CRA stop investigating the political activities of the Canadian Centre for Policy alternatives until it understands the basics of research and the role of think tanks in society. In the other, I’m interviewed by Carol Linnitt of Desmog Blog about my thesis finding of CRA targeting of certain charities that publicly differ with the current government about public policy choices. I note that all think tanks have world views but that does not make their research partisan or biased; only leftwing research institutes, including the acclaimed CCPA, are being audited by CRA for political activities.
Left-Leaning Think-Tank Experiences Change in Definitions
This Labour Day (September 1, 2014) story by Dan Beeby of Canadian Press relates how left-leaning think-tank Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives obtained a CRA document under access to information regs in which it appears that actions that had previously been approved in 1989–90 and 2002 audits are being questioned in a current audit. The document, a rationale for conducting the 2013 audit, suggests that website content indicate the organization may be carrying out prohibited partisan activities and that research and educational material may be biased or one-sided. CCPA’s Bruce Campbell explains that all think tanks, whether left– or right-leaning, work from a specific set of values that guides their research and policy analysis. But no right-wing think-tanks (e.g., CD Howe Institute, Macdonald-Laurier Institute, the Fraser Institute and the Economic Institute) appear to be undergoing similar kinds of audits. Campbell says that the memo indicates a shift in definitions being used by CRA in the current round of ‘political activities’ audits.
Problem With Charities Is Their Generous Tax Credit
In this August 27, 2014 column for Post Media, Andrew Coyne argues that all charities ought lose their receipting privileges for donors. Coyne argues that because they publicly advance their missions, all charity communications are inherently at least implicitly “political activities.”—and hence the tax credit itself that corrupts organizations, argues Coyne. Organizations should be able to be political in the way that non-profits are because they all have world views. But charitable tax credits should be abolished instead of the CRA’s auditing activities put under the microscope. He does not address how important service, education, research, and other activities would be accomplished despite the large loss of revenues that charities would experience—or the larger subsidies that taxpayers generally give businesses through much larger tax deductions they enjoy for their activities aimed at persuading the public around issues.
Link to online article | PDF link
Charity Wonders About Sudden Interest from Ottawa
The Toronto Star continues its ongoing independent coverage of the charity chill with a news report by Donovan Vincent. Few charities yet feel secure speaking publicly about their experiences and Vincent revisits in-depth CoDevelopment Canada, a small (four staff, two of whom are part-time) Vancouver-based international development and human rights charity that works with Latin American partners. It is having difficulty following a recent CRA directive to translate all paperwork from their partners, who operate in Spanish. The charity’s former leader wonders whether previous criticism of the government’s trade deal with Colombia has opened it up to repeat audits in the past three years.
Rankin: Tory Audit Tactics Worrisome
The Victoria Times Colonist newspaper publishes an August 21 opinion column by local NDP MP Murray Rankin, who is also the Opposition critic for Finance, in which he refers indirectly to my thesis. Rankin lists several ways in which the current government has tried “to silence those who disagree with them,” including sending a chill through the charitable sector.
An Uncharitable Chill Thesis Profiled by Royal Roads
Royal Roads University profiles my thesis, written as a student in their MA in Professional Communication program. Staff writer Stephanie Harrington quotes my thesis advisor, Dr David Black, who was very kind in his comments about my work. The respect is mutual: Dr Black is much heralded by students, most of whom are mid-career professionals like myself, for his teaching skills and for triggering strong passions for communication theory. This respectful interchange between adult professionals is the Royal Roads advantage.
Conservatives Block Review of Audit Process
The federal Liberal Party, quiet until now, appears to have joined the NDP in calling August 18 for the Finance committee to investigate the auditing process of the political activities of some charities. Liberal MP Emmanuel Dubourg, a professional accountant and former longtime employee of Revenue Quebec, called for setting the record straight through hearings.
Committee Has No Plans to Look Into Charity Interference
A motion by the NDP finance critic Murray Rankin, partly based on my research findings, was rejected August 18 by a majority of the House of Commons finance committee in a short, 45-minute, meeting closed to media and public by a majority vote of the Conservative members. The motion would have seen the committee probe the CRA’s audits into political activities of certain Canadian charities. Rankin later repeated his earlier call for an independent investigation into the audits. The government continues to speak of the professionalism of the CRA staff and not of the funnel the government created that moves the CRA to auditing charities more likely to be critical of government public policies.
Adam Daifallah: Unmuzzle the Charities
Former National Post editorial board member Adam Daifallah called August 13 for the government to free up charities to comment as they wish by dumping the restriction limiting charities to using no more than 10% of their resources for political activities. He also asks why more political non-profit organizations should be deprived of having charitable status, and hence able to write tax receipts. Interestingly, he notes that political parties are allowed a more generous tax credit than charities. I would further posit that in the interest of fair play, charities should have the same freedom for political activities and tax write-offs as are enjoyed by businesses.
Charities Push Back Against Harper
I wrote this report about my thesis findings for Rabble.ca, published online on August 12. My thesis found that charities were being muffled and distracted by the federal government’s actions, but many understood their own power and spoke of not accepting a “victim” label. I write about some of the various ways that charities are pushing back that I am able to share under the terms of my consent agreement with participants.
Charities Under Audit Fire Band Together for Answers from CRA: Editorial
The Toronto Star published an Editorial on August 11 in which they congratulated the international aid charities that are joining forces to push back against auditing actions of CRA. And they called on the government to accede to the two requests of the federal NDP for an independent audit and a parliamentary probe of the auditing process.
Foreign-Aid Charities Unite to Challenge CRA Audits
Dean Beeby of Canadian Press wrote this August 10 news report that an umbrella organization for development charities, the Canadian Council for International Development, wants to meet with CRA to discuss contentious audit and policy issues and “rebuild a relationship.” It refers indirectly to my thesis. My study found that development charities are one of three sectors being targeted by the federal government through CRA, and that the sector suffers from CRA regulations that are onerous and difficult to work with given their unique international conditions.
Editorials in Smaller-Market Papers Telling Government to Call off Harassment
Here’s an Aug 8 editorial, directly referencing my thesis findings, that ran in the Alliston Herald and on Simcoe.com. There was a strong conversation regarding my thesis findings and related issues in small and medium newspaper markets, including suburban papers, small city, and resource communities.
Trending on Twitter
The charity chill stories have repeatedly trended on Twitter during the first three weeks of the national conversation. The attached is a notice from Twitter of trending on August 4.
NDP Wants MPs to Probe Charity Audit Crackdown
Aug 5 news reports by Dean Beeby of Canadian Press and Mike De Souza of The Toronto Star cover a request to the federal parliament’s finance committee for an emergency reconvening to discuss the politicization of the CRA political-audit process.
Aussie Advocacy Crackdown Echoes Canadian Charity Fears
I was interviewed by David P Ball of The Tyee for this August 4 report comparing Canada’s regulations of charities with that of Australia. The governments of both nations appear to be taking actions to muzzle and distract their charities from political activities, particularly environmental organizations.
Timeline of Political Activity Audits
Canadian Press’s Dean Beeby created a timeline of the political activity audits that includes my thesis as a contribution to the knowledge. The timeline, like my thesis, kicks off with the strident rhetoric of former Natural Resources (now Finance) Minister Joe Oliver’s open letter treating environmentalists as enemies of the country.
CRA’s Political Targeting of Charities Under Scrutiny
This Aug 3 report by Canadian Press’s Dean Beeby quotes directly from a recent entry on my blog. The report ran widely, including the National Post and The Globe and Mail. In it, the CRA reverses its previous assertion that it tries to politically balance the political activities audits by ensuring groups with various (presumed) ideologies are audited. It now suggests the agency balances through the four legitimate categories of ‘purpose.’ But Beeby demonstrates that evidence suggests otherwise.
CRA Refuses to Divulge Audit Tactics Targeting Charities
Kathryn Blaze Carlson’s excellent report in the July 31 Globe and Mail highlights a communication problem within CRA: the agency refused to release details of its internal auditing guidelines for interpreting whether a charity’s “political activities” are acceptable. My thesis found that charities are frustrated and confused by the grey areas and possible shifts in interpretations of regulations governing acceptable “charitable” and “political” activities and other regulations.
Link to online article | PDF link
I am interviewed by Coop Radio, Vancouver
I am interviewed early morning July 31 by Media Mornings host David P. Ball at Coop Radio, Vancouver. We discussed the funnel that politicized CRA’s auditing and the implications for society of narrowing public conversations and government misusing its power.
I am interviewed by the Pamela McCall show on CFAX1070
I was interviewed by Pamela McCall’s mid-morning show on CFAX 1070 in Victoria, BC. We discussed the funnel that politicized CRA’s auditing process and the implication of charities’ muffling and distraction for society getting needed expert input on public policy issues.
CRA Audit Sets Tough Conditions for Small Charity
Dean Beeby of Canadian Press on July 30 uncovers a small Vancouver development charity—CoDevelopment Canada Association—funded by labour unions that has passed a recent CRA audit, including political activities, but has new onerous requirements that will be difficult to meet given their small size.
My Tyee Guest Blog: BC Hit Hard by Charity Chill
I wrote this guest blog published July 29 on The Tyee. I argue that BC is particularly hard-hit by the muffling and distraction of charities that advocate on public policy issues, given the contentious issues now under discussion, including pipeline and other energy issues, First Nations claims, and high unemployment.
Radio Canada International Interviews Me (With Sound Clip)
Terry Haig, an excellent interviewer for Radio Canada International, ran a story including a sound-clip of our interview on July 29. I address the issue of CRA being used by the government by use of a decision funnel to fight the government’s battles against citizen groups that have different policy preferences to those of the government.
Harper Government Systematically Silencing Dissent: Payne
Lisa Payne argues in a July 28 column in the St. John’s, NL, Telegram that the current Harper government uses “aggressive attack(s) on anyone and everyone who disagrees with their ideology or policy.” She draws directly on the findings of my thesis.
Innocent Charities Have Nothing to Fear: Corcoran
The national conversation broadens. Unlike other right-leaning columnists Margaret Wente and Don Cayo, Terence Corcoran of the Financial Post sees charities that complain of the political audits as leftist whiners and argues July 28 that they have nothing to fear if they have done nothing wrong. He does not discuss the distraction and muffling that goes along with the targeting of progressive charities and suggests that all charities are being treated fairly.
Toronto Star Says Feds Going Too Far in Charity Targeting
Following on the series of reports by Dean Beeby on my thesis findings, and the experiences with CRA of Oxfam Canada and Pen Canada, the July 27 Toronto Star sounds the alarm that the federal government is going too far in targeting charities with policy ideas that differ from their own.
CRA Says They Select to Balance Charity Politics
Steven Chase and Bill Curry report in the July 25 Globe and Mail that CRA consciously selects charities from across the political spectrum for the special political-activity audits ordered by the federal government. They quote from my thesis findings and interview me for the report. I see no evidence of right-leaning charities being audited for political activities.
Charity Umbrellas Not Looking for Fight With CRA
Kady O’Malley at CBC Parliamentary Bureau posted this report to the website July 25. It’s an interesting mix: charity umbrella group Imagine Canada saying it has no intention of taking on CRA, a Christian charity umbrella group accusing other charities of breaking regulations, and a review of the Oxfam run-in with CRA, which insisted the highly regarded development group remove a reference to “preventing poverty: from its charitable purpose. Intriguing all around.
CRA Auditing Church-Based Charity Group Kairos
Bill Curry of the Globe and Mail explores on July 24 the audit of the United Church of Canada, focusing on political activities of Kairos, an international aid organization funded by 11 churches and administered by the UCC. The United Church’s CFO says he is not yet convinced that the church was targeted for political reasons. Writes Curry: “The Harper government cancelled federal funding for Kairos in 2009 over its position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, ending 35 straight years of government transfers to the organization for foreign aid-related work.”
Unhappy Charity Experiences with CRA: CP
Dean Beeby of Canadian Press shares the experiences of Oxfam Canada (July 24) and Pen Canada (July 21) with Canada Revenue Agency regarding acceptable “purposes” and “political activities” respectively. Beeby is now drilling down, bringing to light the stories of individual charities, moving beyond generalizations in the national conversation about charity regulations and audits.
Tax Audits Targeting Critics Should Worry All Canadians: Cayo
Drawing indirectly from my thesis findings, Right-wing libertarian columnist Don Cayo writes July 24 argues in the Vancouver Sun that by politicizing CRA’s auditing process to target charities with a different perspective than the government, it sets a precedent for future governments with different ideologies. Cayo suggests letting donors decide if a charity is too political.
Is PEN the Latest Target of Harper’s Selective Tax Audits?: Tyee
Quoting from my research findings, a July 24 opinion piece by the National Union of Public and General Employees quotes their president, James Clancy’s argument that the current federal government has taken a series of actions against civil-society organizations that together send the message: “Speak out against the Harper government and we will target you with an audit.
Pen and the Politics of Charity: Wente
Drawing indirectly on my thesis findings, Globe and Mail right-leaning columnist Margaret Wente July 24 questions the government’s priorities in auditing left-wing charities for ‘political activities.’
Charities Might be Asked for Donor Lists
Dean Beeby of Canadian Press reports July 23 of a meeting between charitable organizations and revenue minister Kerry-Lynne Findlay in which the minister raised the idea of all charities having to forward a list of donor names to the government. The idea was raised in connection with tackling the ongoing problem of donor-receipt fraud, but there are concerns about the government knowing that level of information about people’s charity choices, particularly in the current federal political climate.
CRA Becomes an Arm of the PMO: Baglow
John Baglow’s spicy opinion piece on Rabble.ca on July 22 reviews multiple actions of the current federal government on scientists, artists, First Nations and now charities as it narrows society’s public conversations. He draws substantially from my thesis findings.
Link to online article | PDF link
Charities Bullied into Muting their Messages: Researcher
Charity Chill Raises Alarm: Star editorial
This July 21 Toronto Star editorial reviews the issue, including my findings, and goads all political parties and politicians at the federal and provincial level, as well as wealthy philanthropists, to pressure the government to back off harassment of charities.
NDP Call for Independent Probe into CRA’s Targeting of Charities
Based partly on the findings of my thesis, two federal NDP shadow critics, called July 16 on the federal government to set up an independent probe of the CRA’s targeting of some charities for political activities.
Stephen Harper Intimidates Charities Into Silence: Goar
Toronto Star columnist Carol Goar takes the federal government to task July 15 for using tax audits as a tool to intimidate or punish groups critical of the government’s agenda. Goar draws on my thesis findings, though seemingly missing some of my findings concerning Ethical Oil’s involvement.
How Tories Bully Charities and Abuse Power
I wrote this guest blog published July 16 in the “Politics” section of Huffington Post Canada: How Tories Bully Charities. It had strong visits, tweets, and retweets.
Live Interview on CBC Victoria Radio
I was interviewed July 14, 2014 on CBC Victoria’s morning drive-in radio show, On the Island.
Link to online article | MP3 Sound File
Canadian Press: Conservative Government Steps Up Scrutiny of Charities’ Political Activities
Dean Beeby, deputy bureau chief for Canadian Press in Ottawa, includes my thesis findings in his July 10 report on the expansion of Canada Revenue Agency audits for “political activities” of charities, to organizations other than environmental charities. It was widely published in full or in part online and in print in larger daily newspapers, including the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star and Post Media chain. Jonathan Hayward photography.
Gareth Kirkby Poses in Vancouver, BC.
Some daily publications, including the Calgary Herald and the Montreal Gazette ran a July 10 photo and caption rather than the entire report by Dean Beeby. Jonathan Hayward photography
Study Cites Chill from Tax Agency Audits of Charities’ Political Activities
My thesis results are featured in this July 10, 2014 report by Dean Beeby, deputy bureau chief for Canadian Press. It was widely published online and in print and radio, primarily in smaller cities, suburbs, and resource communities. It also ran online and in print with some larger outlets, including CBC, Ottawa Citizen, and Canada.com’s large chain of papers. Jonathan Hayward photography.