CRA Ruling and Charities: An Update

Earlier this month, we shared details of an important ruling made by the Ontario Superior Court that struck down restrictions related to charities and political activities. (You can read that update to members here.)

Last week, the picture changed somewhat. A joint statement by the Minister of National Revenue and the Minister of Finance established the federal government’s position on the ruling and on this increasingly contentious issue. Their statement affirmed Ottawa’s “commitment to clarify the rules governing the political activities of charities” and reiterated that the government is “taking the necessary steps to move forward on that commitment.”

However, the Ministers’ statement also made clear the fact that the federal government will be appealing the decision made by the Ontario court (Canada Without Poverty v the Attorney General of Canada, rendered on July 16, 2018) in order to “address the uncertainty created by it” and to “seek clarification on important issues of constitutional and charity law.”

What this all means

While the decision to appeal does not necessarily change the policy direction the government intends to take regarding the limits on political activities, Canada Without Poverty (CWP), among others, has called the move “troubling” and “wrongheaded.” While the Ontario court’s ruling constitutionally protected the right of charities “to freedom of non-partisan expression” under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom, Ottawa’s plan is to appeal and address this issue by instead amending legislation.

In other words, the government has promised to remove the offending provisions of the Income Tax Act, but only as a matter of public policy rather than a matter of human rights and free speech. Thus, while the end result (removal of restrictions regarding political activities for charities) could remain the same, a legislative approach will be taken rather than a judicial one—leaving that end result in a far more precarious position.

“Ultimately, [the government’s] position is that what happened to CWP under the previous government does not violate the Charter. If they win on appeal, any future government would be free to re-introduce the same legislative provisions and the same thing could happen to the charitable sector all over again.” – Canada Without Poverty

Ottawa plans to present the new legislation in the fall. Rest assured, the Federation is monitoring this issue very closely and will report any new developments to our members. In the meantime, you can review a number of related resources below. Please contact our Research and Policy Analyst if you have any specific questions or concerns.

– The Ontario court’s initial ruling
– The Federation’s update to members on the initial ruling
– Statement by the Minister of National Revenue and the Minister of Finance
– Canada Without Poverty’s response to the joint statement
– Imagine Canada’s response to the joint statement
– Responses by other charities

Rick FitzZaland
Federation Executive Director