Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) national headquarters on 555 MacKenzie Avenue in Ottawa. (Photo: OBERT MADONDO/The Canadian Progressive / Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

CRA seeks Canadians’ feedback on its controversial auditing of charities’ political activities

by: Obert Madondo | Published November 23, 2016, by Charity Files

The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) wants to hear from Canadians regarding its controversial auditing of registered charities’ political activities.

The political activities consultation will lead to “the development of new guidance or educational resources for charities on the rules governing political activities.”

The CRA is the federal overseer of charities under Canada’s Income Tax Act. The agency developed quite a reputation with its controversial political auditing of environmental charities, foreign aid organizations and other groups seen as critical to the previous Conservative government of Stephen Harper. The controversial audits, launched in 2012, were conducted “under an $8-million program that initially targeted environmental groups, then expanded to human rights, poverty, religious and other charities,” according to CBC News.

After winning the 2015 federal election, the Liberal government of Justin Trudeau pledged to end to the controversial audits. In his recent Ministerial Mandate Letter to Diane Lebouthillier, the Minister of National Revenue, the prime minister declared that the CRA must allow Canadian “charities to do their work on behalf of Canadians free from political harassment.” Trudeau said the CRA “exists to serve Canadians” and so should now be overhauled.

RELATED: Trudeau: CRA must allow Canadian charities to do their work “free from political harassment”

Considering the controvervesy surrounding the CRA’s political audits,vis-à-vis the important role Canadian charities play in our lives, this consultation is extremely important. You have until Nov. 25, 2016, to submit your feedback.

Below are the details of the CRA’s consultation call:

The Canada Revenue Agency’s online consultation on charities’ political activities

A. Introduction

Charities play a critical role in our society. They make a valuable contribution to public policy and public debate for all Canadians. To help charities continue this important work, they must be assured they are operating in a regulatory environment that respects and encourages their contribution.

The Government of Canada has committed to modernizing the rules governing the charitable sector. This includes clarifying the rules governing political activities. Registered charities are allowed to engage in non-partisan political activities within certain limits. They are not allowed to engage in partisan political activities. As announced in Budget 2016, the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) will collaborate with the Department of Finance to engage with charities to clarify the rules governing political activities. As part of this engagement process, the CRA is collecting feedback from charities and the public.

Your feedback will be fully considered in the development of new guidance or educational resources for charities on the rules governing political activities. This online consultation will be part of a series of discussions between the government and the charitable sector on this issue.

B. Background information

The CRA is responsible for administering the Income Tax Act. The Department of Finance Canada is responsible for the legislative framework pertaining to charities as set out in the Act.

The CRA develops policy guidance for charities on how to meet the requirements of the Act, including those related to political activities. The CRA’s policy guidance for charities on political activities includes:

Policy statement CPS-022, Political activities
Resources for charities about political activities

C. Consultation questions

To help with its policy development efforts, the CRA wants your feedback. Please answer the questions below, and feel free to address any other issues related to charities’ political activities.

1. Carrying out political activities

Are charities generally aware of what the rules are on political activities?

What issues or challenges do charities encounter with the existing policies on charities’ political activities?

Do these policies help or hinder charities in advocating for their causes or for the people they serve?

2. The CRA’s policy guidance

Is the CRA’s policy guidance on political activities clear, useful, and complete? For example, how could the CRA improve its policy guidance on these topics:

the description of a political activity

the description of a partisan political activity

charities’ accountability for their use of resources

Which formats are the most useful and effective for offering policy guidance on the rules for political activities? For example:

two to three minute videos

videoconferences

comprehensive guidance documents like those on the CRA website

webinars or other types of presentations delivered by organizations other than the CRA

other formats

3. Future policy development

Should changes be made to the rules governing political activities and, if so, what should those changes be?

D. How to comment

Closing date: All comments are requested by November 25, 2016.

Who may respond:

These consultations are open to everyone. Please email your comments to: [email protected].

All submissions the CRA receives fall under the Access to Information Act and may be disclosed in line with its provisions.

Obert Madondo is an Ottawa-based progressive blogger, and the founder and editor of The Canadian Progressive. Follow him on Twitter: @Obiemad

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Obert Madondo is an Ottawa-based blogger, activist, photographer, digital rights addict, and former international development administrator. He's the founder and editor of these blogs: The Canadian Progressive, a provocative and activism-oriented Canadian political blog; Zimbabwean Progressive, an independent blog dedicated to producing fearless, progressive, adversarial, unapologetic, and activism-oriented political journalism; and Charity Files, a publication dedicated to journalism in the giving public's interest.