I came across a headline from CBC.ca which screamed “Revenue Canada forbids Unitarians from working for justice – Tax auditors continue Harper-launched probe of religious charity under new Liberal government” and I could not hesitate to stop and see what this was all about.
The link to the original article is here, and comments are already closed for this topic, a day after it hit the public broadcaster’s website with a whopping 732 comments.
To summarize the article for those who do not want to follow the link, the CRA (not Revenue Canada) advised the Canadian Unitarian Council that it’s council bylaws are too vague. They did not “forbid” them for doing anything but being compliant with Canadian Charity regulations.
The CRA wrote, “Vague purposes are ambiguous and can be interpreted in many different ways,” in a compliance letter, which includes other demands more than a year after the political activity audit of this charity was launched.
The Canadian Unitarian Council bylaws were accepted by Industry Canada when the Toronto-based charity submitted them for approval (applied for charitable status) in 2013, however the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) found the wording to be contradictory to the Charitable definition set out in the Income Tax Act, and have asked the charity to remove any reference to “justice” or “social justice.”
Where I find this post to be completely irresponsible is where the author begins to compare audits of charities to being a witch hunt which started under Stephen Harper’s Conservative government and is continuing under Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government.
“Many charities targeted by CRA’s political activity audit program, begun in 2012 under the Stephen Harper government, had expected relief from the Liberals, who campaigned on a promise to set charities “free from political harassment.”
It is the responsibility of the Minister of National Revenue through the Canada Revenue Agency to ensure that each and every charity is registered correctly and that they are following guidelines set out in the Income Tax Act and that those rules, regulations and by-laws which were submitted by the charity is being followed.
While it might be a huge pain in the ass for established charities, the CRA audit process provides an opportunity for charities to ensure they are compliant with rules and regulations and are eligible to issue donation receipts.
With all the chaos the CRA has had to deal with regarding the GLGI charity scam and other ineligible donation programs, it is VERY important for each and every taxpayer that the CRA does their due diligence and confirms the charity is following the letter of the law because if they are not, the problems fall to the people who donate!
Wisely, the Minister of National Revenue said the 24 political activity audits underway would continue without interference from the Liberal government and the Notice of Revocation of Charitable Status issued to 5 other charities would not be rescinded by her government.
The Liberals did, however, cancel political activity audits on 6 other charities.
The fact that the Canadian Unitarian Council was a vocal critic of the Harper government is meaningless, as is the fact that many of the 60 charities audited in the $13.4-million political activities audit program were too.
The only thing that matters here is that Taxpayers like you and I will be able to donate to a charity, receive a donation receipt and be sure that the donation receipt is valid and will be accepted by the CRA. Even if that means that charities which were started with all the best intentions in the world have to work a little bit harder to ensure they are fully compliant with the CRA’s Charities requirements, which can be found right here.
Personally, I’m happy to hear that of 38 completed audits so far, only one found no problems, six have been given notice the agency intends to revoke their charitable status, of which 5 will be appealing.
Considering the amount of discussion and opportunity to meet the CRA’s requirements during the audit process, it is likely that these charities which are appealing either do not meet the CRA’s charity requirements at all, or are refusing to change their bylaws and thus will have their status revoke for good.
At the end of the day, it’s not a war against charities, but it’s the CRA performing due diligence to ensure the taxpayer’s donated money is heading for a cause and not to pad the pockets of the charities Board of Directors.