Note from Marni Soupcoff of the Canadian Constitution Foundation on the Broadbent Institute Report

January 23, 2015 | By: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) Mark Blumberg
Topics: News, What's New from the Charities Directorate of CRA, Canadian Charity Law, Ethics and Canadian Charities

I received an email from Marni Soupcoff of the Canadian Constitution Foundation.  She discusses the narrative that supposedly no "right-leaning" groups are being audited for political activities.  I thought I would share it.

Dear Mr. Blumberg,

On January 20, news broke that registered charity Dying With Dignity Canada is expected to be stripped of its charitable status on February 15, following a lengthy CRA audit. In its letter to the 30-year-old organization, the CRA reportedly said that Dying With Dignity's charitable status should never have been granted in the first place, nor should it have been renewed, because the group does not conduct "any activities advancing education in the charitable sense.” 

In the wake of this news, many commentators have been referencing a recent report from the Broadbent Institute called "Stephen Harper’s CRA: Selective Audits, ‘Political’ Activity, and Right-Leaning Charities.” Given the renewed attention to the paper, which suggests that charities it characterizes as "right-leaning" are being left alone by CRA auditors for political reasons, I feel it would be useful for you and your readers to know how poorly researched the report really is. 

Contrary to what is suggested by the paper's title, the authors present no evidence whatsoever that so-called "right-leaning" charities are escaping audits. Of the 10 "right-leaning" charities listed in the paper, two (including my organization, the Canadian Constitution Foundation) are being audited by the CRA, despite Broadbent's implications to the contrary. Two of the "right-leaning charities" were on record as having not been audited by CRA. And the authors simply had no idea about the remaining six "right-leaning charities." Apparently, they just guessed.

If the Broadbent Institute authors had truly desired to create a well-researched report, they would have done well to have simply picked up the phone and asked the "right-leaning" charities in question if they'd been audited by CRA. I for one would have been happy to let them know about the CCF's audit. And judging by the fact that he wrote a national newspaper column on the subject, Lawrence Solomon seems likely to have been of the same mind about publicly disclosing CRA audits of his organization, Energy Probe.

In the wake of the Dying With Dignity headlines, Globe and Mail reporter Kelly Grant exercised the due diligence the Broadbent authors never bothered with. She contacted the 10 "right-leaning" charities and asked them if they'd been audited. Only four of them in total confirmed they hadn't been audited, leaving the majority of the identified charities in the audited or unknown category.  

Even the whole idea of a "right-leaning" charity is simplistic and misleading. The Broadbent authors equate "right-leaning" with being uncritical of government policy." Yet my apparently "right-leaning" organization, the CCF, litigates exclusively against government. Indeed, one of our long-time legal opponents was the CRA itself. It's hard to imagine how this would earn us leniency with the powers that be.

Ultimately, I suspect that you and I and the Broadbent authors all agree on the importance of charities being able to express dissent without fear of government retaliation. It's just a shame all non-profits couldn't have worked together on this important issue in a constructive way rather than reducing it to a "left vs. right" game.

Sincerely,

Marni Soupcoff

Executive Director

Canadian Constitution Foundation

Unfortunately as a result of the taxpayer confidentiality provisions of the Income Tax Act we will never know.   Here is a copy of a submission I made to the Finance Committee asking for greater transparency and ability for CRA to disclose information when it comes to which charities CRA is auditing.  The Charity Commission in the UK has that power - it is time CRA had the same ability to warn the public of charity scams or to at least advise the public of which charities are being audited.   

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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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