Will All Parties Support Probe Into Politicization of CRA Charity Audits?


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.

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