Political activities: Is it educational or is it propaganda?

January 15, 2012 | By: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) Mark Blumberg
Topics: News, Canadian Charity Law

An activity by a registered charity could be charitable if you are helping people “make an informed and critical choice” and it could be propaganda if you are trying to indoctrinate people into a particular viewpoint.

Here is an excerpt from CRA Guidance on Political Activities - CPS-022

“8. Education as a charitable purpose and how it differs from public awareness campaigns
The courts stipulate that to qualify as a charity under the head of advancement of education, a targeted attempt must be made to educate others—there must be some structure. It is not enough to simply provide an opportunity for people to educate themselves by making materials available with which they may accomplish this but need not.
To advance education in the charitable sense means:
• training the mind;
• advancing the knowledge or abilities of the recipient;
• raising the artistic taste of the community; or
• improving a useful branch of human knowledge through research.

Education is further explained in Vancouver Society of Immigrant and Visible Minority Women v. The Minister of National Revenue, [1999] 1 S.C.R. 10.[Footnote 8]

A charity whose object includes the advancement of education must take care not to disregard the boundary between education and propaganda. To be considered charitable, an educational activity must be reasonably objective and based on a well-reasoned position. This means a position that is based on factual information that is methodically, objectively, fully, and fairly analyzed. In addition, a well-reasoned position should present (i.e., address) serious arguments and relevant facts to the contrary. This notion was discussed in Challenge Team v. Revenue Canada, [2000] 2 C.T.C. 352 at para. 1 (Fed. C.A.):
We all agree with the appellant that educating people from a particular political or moral perspective may be[Footnote 9] educational in the charitable sense in that it enables listeners to make an informed and critical choice. However, an activity is not educational in the charitable sense when it is undertaken “solely to promote a particular point of view” ( per Iacobucci J. Vancouver Society of Immigrant and Visible Minority Women v. M.N.R., [1999] 1 S.C.R. 10, at paragraph 169).

The degree of bias in an activity will determine if it can still be considered educational. The materials of some organizations may have such a slant or predetermination that we can no longer reasonably consider them as educational.
Also, to be educational in the charitable sense, organizations must not rely on incomplete information or on an appeal to emotions. Even in a classroom setting, promoting a particular point of view may not be educational in the charitable sense. As a result, courses, workshops, and conferences may not be charitable if they ultimately seek to create a climate of opinion or to advocate a particular cause.

This issue was discussed in Southwood v. A.G., [2000] ECWA Civ. 204 (BILII) http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2000/204.html, an English law decision in which the Court of Appeal examined the refusal of the Charity Commission to register the Project on Demilitarization (Prodem).”

 

Here is a link to CRA Guidance on Political Activities - CPS-022 http://www.cra-arc.gc.ca/chrts-gvng/chrts/plcy/cps/cps-022-eng.html

As well here is a copy in PDF of the CRA Policy Statement on Political Activities by Canadian Charities CPS-022 - September 2, 2003 so that you can download it easily to your computer.

 

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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.

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