I have been concerned that it is not easy for people interested in Ontario non-profit and charity sector to obtain information on Ontario non-profit corporations. With the Federal government the information is available online and free. I have been requesting from the Ontario government a list of Ontario corporations, to publish the list, and to make it easier for the public to verify if an organization is an Ontario corporation. I recently received an e-mail from the Ontario Ministry of Government Services. They advised “when the new Ontario Business Information System (ONBIS) is launched (tentatively scheduled for July 1, 2013), most of the data you are requesting will be available to the public online and free of charge. Fundamental information about a corporation such as the name, corporation number, date of incorporation, type and status will all be available. The Ontario Not-for-Profit Corporations Act, 2010 is currently targeted to come into effect at the same time as the new ONBIS system.” Making some basic information from the ONBIS system available to everyone free of charge is a small but important step in assisting Ontario non-profits with the ONCA.
Why is this important? Approximately 54000 Ontario non-profits incorporated under the Ontario Corporations Act (OCA) will be affected by the new Ontario Non-Profit Corporations Act (ONCA). Many of these organizations are small groups of volunteers and they may not know whether they are a federal or Ontario corporation. They in many cases don’t have a copy of their letters patent etc. Many organizations use a name (and have for many years) which is not the same as their legal name. Many organizations don’t know the exact formulation of their legal name. Many think they are incorporated but they are actually unincorporated associations. With Federal corporations anyone person can search the Industry Database for free. Ontario does not have such a facility for easy and public access to the ONBIS data system. This online ONBIS system will allow Ontario non-profit corporations to able to verify they are an Ontario non-profit, that they are still active and the correct spelling of the name of the organization etc.
We have been working on the Federal continuance process since October 2011. The number 1 issue we have encountered are non-profits and charities who think that the Federal CNCA applies to them when in fact they are Ontario corporations and the ONCA (targeted to come into force July 1, 2013), not the CNCA, that is the statute that will apply to them.
I am not optimistic that the transition is going to go through smoothly in Ontario. I have almost no concerns with the ONCA itself – my concerns are with non-profit organizations that in many cases don’t even know that they are an Ontario non-profit and whether the ONCA will apply to them. Non-profits have limited energy to spend on governance matters and currently it is more difficult than it should be for them to find this information from the Ontario government. The process for your average charity of obtaining information from the Ontario government is cumbersome, confusing and expensive. Remember microfiche - yes Ontario records are in microfiche format. I have written a number of articles recently on the transition including this recent article for the Trillium Foundation: http://www.scribd.com/doc/124033018/Opportunity-Knocks
Do you require legal advice with respect to Canadian or Ontario non-profits or charities?
Mark Blumberg is a partner at the law firm of Blumberg Segal LLP in Toronto and works almost exclusively in the areas of non-profit and charity law.