In some case CRA accepts that communication to the public or public awareness campaigns may be considered charitable and not political.
Here is an excerpt from CRA Guidance on Political Activities - CPS-022
7. When is communication a charitable activity?
In carrying out their mandate, registered charities often have to communicate with the public or public officials. The following sections outline when such communication activities are charitable and when they are not.
7.1 Public awareness campaigns
A charity’s public awareness campaigns aim to give useful knowledge to the public to enable them to make decisions about the work a charity does or an issue related to that work.
When a registered charity seeks to foster public awareness about its work or an issue related to that work, it is presumed to be taking part in a charitable activity as long as the activity is connected and subordinate to the charity’s purpose. In addition, the activity should be based on a position that is well-reasoned, rather than information the charity knows or ought to know is false, inaccurate, or misleading. Finally, although the Canada Revenue Agency acknowledges that material produced in support of a public awareness campaign may have some emotional content, it would be unacceptable for a charity to undertake an activity using primarily emotive material.
To ensure that the activity is not considered a political activity, see the guidelines in section 6.2 above.
Note: Organizations that provide information or promote a point of view, as their sole or main activity cannot qualify as a charity under the head of advancement of education. There is an important difference between a charity educating people in a way that furthers an educational purpose and an organization merely circulating information to the public about its work. For more information, see section 8 below.
7.2 Rule about providing contact information during public awareness campaigns
Some media do not have much space for information or are time-limited (e.g., advertisements on buses or television). In these cases, the charity should ensure that the advertisement shows how interested parties can get background information. The charity’s telephone number, mailing address, and/or Internet address should be provided.
7.3 Communicating with an elected representative or public official[Footnote 7]
When a registered charity makes a representation, whether by invitation or not, to an elected representative or public official, the activity is considered to be charitable. Even if the charity explicitly advocates that the law, policy, or decision of any level of government in Canada or a foreign country ought to be retained, opposed, or changed, the activity is considered to fall within the general scope of charitable activities. However, such activity should be subordinate to the charity’s purposes and all representations should:
• relate to an issue that is connected to the charity’s purposes;
• be well-reasoned (or where time constraints make this impractical, should be based on a well-reasoned position and such a position should be submitted in a timely manner to the elected representative or public official concerned); and
• not contain information that the charity knows or ought to know is false, inaccurate, or misleading.
7.3.1 Releasing the text of a representation
Releasing the text of a representation before or after delivering it to the elected representative or public official will be considered a charitable activity provided the entire text is released and there is no explicit call to political action either in the text or in reference to the text (i.e., others should not be told to contact an elected representative or public official and urge them to retain, oppose, or change the law, policy, or decision of any level of government in Canada or a foreign country).
The charity may issue the entire representation to the public by using a press release or its Web site. The charity may also explain in a newsletter that it intends to make, or has made, the representation and is willing to distribute the information to anyone who wants a copy. In all cases, the entire representation should be made available.
Should a charity make an explicit call to political action in any part of this representation or in reference to it, the activities could be regarded as political activities and, as a result, all resources and expenditures associated with these activities could be considered to have been devoted to a political activity.”
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.
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.