Government Backdown Signals Major Advocacy Win for Canadian Charities
7 February 2019 at 4:40 pm
The Canadian government has dropped its appeal of a court ruling that scrapped the limit on the political activities of a charity.
The Ontario Superior Court ruled last July that legislation preventing charities from spending more than 10 per cent of their resources on political activities violated charities’ constitutional right to free expression.
While the Canadian government agreed to remove this 10 per cent limit on non-partisan political advocacy, it appealed the court decision last August because of “significant errors of law” that saw the court apply a test for religious freedom rather than for freedom of expression.
But the government has now dropped the appeal, despite a spokesperson for National Revenue Minister Diane Lebouthillier telling CBC News the government still believed the court made an error of law.
Spokesperson Anne Ellefsen-Gauthier said after consulting with the charity sector and reviewing higher court rulings, the government decided not to fight the ruling because little would be gained from the effort.
“Higher courts have already been pretty clear on the different test that needs to be applied to freedom of expression… We’re dropping the appeal,” Ellefsen-Gauthier said.
It was charity group Canada Without Poverty (CWP) that brought the original legal challenge, resulting in the Ontario Superior Court’s advocacy ruling.
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.
The charity launched its court challenge in 2016, arguing provisions in the Income Tax Act restricting political activities were a violation of the right to freedom of expression under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Justice Morgan ruled in favour of CWP last July, 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.
We've just heard : the government has decided to let Justice Morgan's decision stand in the case of our Charter challenge for the freedom of expression of #charities in Canada!
— CanadaWithoutPoverty (@CWP_CSP) January 31, 2019
CWP warmly welcomed the decision on Twitter.
“We are so pleased the government has done the right thing twice – first, with the legislative changes, and now by withdrawing the appeal of the ruling. While the legislative changes were critical, it’s equally important that the rights of people living in [poverty] are recognized,” the charity said.