Canada Set to Remove Limit on Charities’ Non-partisan Political Activities
29 October 2018 at 5:28 pm
The Canadian government’s move to broaden the freedom of expression for charities has been labelled a win for the nation’s charitable sector.
The government issued a motion last Thursday indicating it would remove the limits on political activities for charities, allowing organisations to engage in non-partisan political activities when this is in pursuit of a charitable purpose.
Canada Without Poverty (CWP) executive director Leilani Farha said this was a victory for the charity sector and would strengthen Canadian democracy.
“The government has chosen to protect the free speech of Canada’s civil society by amending the Income Tax Act. We applaud the change in their approach to one that [is in line with] the freedom of expression of Canadian charities,” Farha said.
Big news for #charities in Canada: "With this shift, this government is acknowledging what CWP has been saying all along: public dialogue is necessary to end #poverty and governments and civil society must be able to work together for everyone in Canada.” @leilanifarha
— CanadaWithoutPoverty (@CWP_CSP) October 26, 2018
CWP’s charitable status came under threat in 2015, after a Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) audit found CWP had breached regulations by spending 98.5 per cent of its time on non-partisan political activities, when there was a limit of 10 per cent.
The charity launched a court challenge in 2016, arguing that provisions in the Income Tax Act which restrict political activities were a violation of the right to freedom of expression under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
In July this year, the Ontario Superior Court ruled in favour of CWP, with Justice Morgan noting in his decision the critical importance of freedom of expression for people living in poverty and the necessity of their contributions to public debate.
The government’s motion supporting non-partisan political activities comes despite the government appealing the court’s ruling in August.
Canada’s Revenue Minister, Diane Lebouthillier, said at the time that the government was appealing the court decision because of “significant errors of law”.
Farha applauded the government’s position shift, and said the case had always been about changing the law to bring the voices of people with a lived experience of poverty to the policy table.
“For almost seven years, we’ve been under threat because we’ve engaged poor people in public policy dialogue,” she said.
“With this shift, this government is acknowledging what CWP has been saying all along: public dialogue is necessary to end poverty and governments and civil society must be able to work together for everyone in Canada.”