A NEW LAW IS NEEDED TO GIVE CITIZENS’ A VOICE THROUGH CHARITIES THEY SUPPORT
Charities in Canada play a critical role. Canadians look to environmental, health, international development and social justice organizations to help them express their views and advocate for a better world. Over the years, charities have helped make Canada a better place. Improvements as diverse as ending acid rain, reducing drinking and driving, ending smoking in the workplace, and introducing cancer screening standards were all the result of organizations bringing public and government attention to issues that required changes in policy. Most of these organizations are charities and together, they voice the Canadian public’s concerns.
Several years ago the former federal government launched public attacks against a number of organizations whose views they disagreed with. The organizations were from a wide range of sectors including international development, poverty alleviation and protection of the environment. The media, public, opposition leaders and many MPs, including now Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, decried these attacks and committed to end the audits and to reform Canadian law to ensure charities could speak out.
Since then, the current federal government has committed to creating a new law and policies that will “allow charities to do their work on behalf of Canadians free from political harassment.” But several antagonistic and costly audits of charities’ political activities that began under the previous government are still underway. Some of these audits have gone on for years and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, money that could have been spent voicing Canadians’ concerns about key issues.
The audits have had a widespread chilling effect on charities across Canada, inhibiting their invaluable work in the name of the public good. These audits must end immediately. Reform of the rules that allowed these audits must begin. If the laws remain unchanged, federal governments may continue to use ambiguous and arbitrary guidelines to harass and silence voices they don’t agree with.
In Canada, corporations with enormous financial resources benefit from government loans, subsidies and tax rebates. Canadian corporations have no limits on their political activity. Everything they spend on public campaigns to affect public policies is 100 per cent deductible from their gross income, thus reducing the tax they pay to the government and representing a significant subsidy to their public policy work. In contrast, charities representing citizens are strictly limited on what they can and cannot say and how much they can spend to voice the concerns of Canadians on public policy. And when citizens give to a charity they receive a much smaller tax deduction.
This makes no sense and isn’t fair. Corporations should not receive preferential treatment over regular Canadians on issues that impact Canadians’ daily lives. New legislation for charities must enhance the ability of citizens to participate in public policy development through the charities they support.
Canadians deserve better. Ambiguous laws should not be tools for silencing Canadians’ voices. A new law is required. Other countries around the world have modernized their charitable laws to protect free speech. It’s time for Canada to do the same. Tell the federal government to keep its promise to create a new law to protect Canadians’ right to be heard through the charities they support.Send a letter
Just weeks ago, Minister of National Revenue Diane Lebouthillier announced the start of a two-month, Canada-wide consultation with charities and the public on the rules under which charities should be allowed to speak out in Canadian society. Minister Lebouthillier remarked on “the critical role charities play in Canadian society” and committed to “working in collaboration with charities to maintain a fair system that respects and encourages their essential contribution.”
These are positive words. Now it’s time to see those words turn into action. The new federal government must keep its promise to create a new law to protect Canadians’ right to be heard through the charities they support.
The ability of Canadians to engage in important debates about social justice, liberty, poverty and the environment depends on charities providing an avenue for their ideas and magnifying their voices.
Canadians have until December 14th to submit a letter to the consultation panel. Send a letter urging the federal government to reform our broken charity laws.
Tell the Minister of Finance to introduce a new law that gives citizens a voice through the charities they support, levels the playing field with corporations and enables charities to continue their important work on public policy issues that help build a better Canada.
Send a letter! Tell the federal government we need a new law that gives citizens a voice through the charities they support.