Which Charities are Being Targeted by CRA


Three kinds of char­i­ta­ble orga­ni­za­tions are dis­pro­por­tion­ately under­go­ing audits by Canada Rev­enue Agency.

You may recall the Feb­ru­ary 2014 CBC news report announc­ing that seven envi­ron­men­tal char­i­ties face CRA audits. The report quoted an Alberta Con­ser­v­a­tive deny­ing that the gov­ern­ment tar­gets any one sec­tor or any one char­ity, but tellingly the MP hinted at one of the trig­gers of selec­tion when he noted that CRA used “all sorts of infor­ma­tion from all sorts of Cana­di­ans” when choosing.

In my last blog I noted what most char­ity lead­ers I inter­viewed con­sider the most likely process: CRA staff try not to hear the gov­ern­ment loudly denounc­ing envi­ron­men­tal orga­ni­za­tions, look for which groups tend to declare more “polit­i­cal activ­i­ties” than other groups, and then look for com­plaints on file against those char­i­ties. And, lo and behold, many groups, par­tic­u­larly but not exclu­sively envi­ron­men­tal orga­ni­za­tions, that oppose the government’s petroleum-friendly eco­nomic strat­egy just hap­pen to have com­plaints in their files from Eth­i­cal Oil, an aggres­sively pro-petroleum pri­vate non­profit organization.

So you may not be sur­prised to learn that my data sug­gests that it is a par­tic­u­lar sec­tor of envi­ron­men­tal char­i­ties that are mainly audited: those deal­ing with petro­leum issues. More specif­i­cally, it is groups that focus on or have projects related to cli­mate change, oil sands devel­op­ment, pipeline trans­port, tanker export, and on pro­tect­ing the species and habi­tats of the Alberta and B.C. inte­rior rivers, forests, and coast­lines that would be most affected by the oil sands, pipelines, tankers, and ports.

But it is not only envi­ron­men­tal char­i­ties being audited. My data shows that two other cat­e­gories of char­i­ties dis­pro­por­tion­ately have their oper­a­tions under the micro­scope: development/human rights groups, and those receiv­ing sig­nif­i­cant fund­ing from labour unions.

While the Eth­i­cal Oil com­plaints seem rel­e­vant in direct­ing CRA staff to par­tic­u­lar envi­ron­men­tal char­i­ties, it’s less clear how they are led to the other two cat­e­gories. Are there com­plaints on file against these orga­ni­za­tions? CRA doesn’t make com­plaints pub­lic; we know of the Eth­i­cal Oil com­plaints because the com­plainant sent copies to the groups they com­plained about and some­times posted them pub­licly includ­ing on the Eth­i­cal Oil web­site. Could it have any­thing to do with some devel­op­ment char­i­ties ques­tion­ing the behav­iour of Cana­dian min­ing com­pa­nies in the devel­op­ing world, where they are seem­ingly increas­ingly con­tro­ver­sial? Could selec­tion of the other two sec­tors be coin­ci­dence, I won­dered? I think not based on my inter­view data.

There is one other group being sin­gled out, it seems: those that have had some rela­tion­ship with Tides Canada Foun­da­tion over the past few years. When CRA audits a char­ity, it some­times fol­lows the money trail to recip­i­ents. Tides Canada has been under per­pet­ual audit since 2012 and drawn the per­sonal inter­est of fed­eral cab­i­net min­is­ters and some of their grant recip­i­ents are now of high inter­est, too.

A Cana­dian Press report recently noted char­i­ties in other sec­tors, includ­ing those address­ing poverty, are being audited, too, but not seem­ingly so sys­tem­at­i­cally as the three I iden­ti­fied. But what almost all char­i­ties under­go­ing these “polit­i­cal activ­i­ties” audits have in com­mon is that they are from the “pro­gres­sive” end of the socio-political spectrum.

That’s a broad catch­ment, for sure, but there are many char­i­ties on the con­ser­v­a­tive end, includ­ing most of the nation’s think thanks such as the Fraser Insti­tute and it’s hard to find any being audited. And of course local churches make up approx­i­mately half of the 85,000 reg­is­tered char­i­ties in Canada and many of the rest are schools, hos­pi­tals, and health-related charities—and they don’t seem to be get­ting many audits above the 800–900 yearly “ran­dom” audits con­ducted by CRA. Yet many of them also advo­cate on public-policy changes and employ “polit­i­cal activ­i­ties.” Can­cer and drink­ing char­i­ties, for exam­ple, pres­sured the gov­ern­ment to bring in increas­ingly strict cig­a­rette reg­u­la­tions and mas­sively stepped up drunk-driving enforce­ment. That’s “polit­i­cal activity.”

So, who is tar­geted for “polit­i­cal activ­i­ties” audits, of which 60 will be per­formed in 2013–2015? Pri­mar­ily three sec­tors: envi­ron­men­tal groups that chal­lenge the government’s petroleum-based eco­nomic strat­egy and/or draw the atten­tion of Eth­i­cal Oil, development/human rights orga­ni­za­tions, and char­i­ties receiv­ing monies from trade unions. And a sprin­kling of oth­ers. Almost all of which are “pro­gres­sive” in ori­en­ta­tion. And there’s your answer.

But why? What’s the point of audit­ing these orga­ni­za­tions? What does it accom­plish for gov­ern­ment, for the petro­leum indus­try, and for pub­lic con­ver­sa­tions on impor­tant issues? Those are for upcom­ing blog postings.

Mean­while, 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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1 comment

  • Gaia Verne

    Great Blog!… To keep it sim­ple …I agree/support your views/opinions of Harper.
    He is NOT my favorite person!

    Con­grats on your Master’s Degree.

    …and Future Best


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