Case Study: Canada Without Poverty: A Violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms?

In September 2016, the Canadian charity Canada Without Poverty (CWP) filed an application with Ontario Superior Court seeking a declaration that provisions in the Income Tax Act which restrict charities’ political activity violate the group’s rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Canada Without Poverty, previously named The National Anti-Poverty Organization (NAPO), has been a registered charity in Canada for 43 years. CWP is directed by a board, all of whom have experienced poverty for a substantial period of their lives. Its charitable purpose is to relieve poverty in Canada.

The charity has been under audit by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) since 2011. After pouring through documentation provided by the organization, CRA found that CWP members and staff frequently identified changes that needed to be made to laws or policies in order to alleviate poverty, and publicly promoted the adoption of a national anti-poverty strategy. CRA also found that some of CWP’s activities, “created an atmosphere conducive to advocating for changes to laws and policies.” Activities found to be political included hosting a dinner at which people living in poverty ate a meal with Members of Parliament and other decision-makers, and discussed their experience of poverty and how to address it.

In its court challenge, CWP argues that having accepted relief of poverty as a charitable purpose, the government should not be permitted, under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, to restrict members of the organization from speaking out about changes to laws and policies that are necessary for their purpose to be achieved.

CRA’s message is clear: under current legislation, charities cannot speak up in open dialogue with Canadians about changes to laws, policies and programs that would improve our country, give a voice to those who are vulnerable and ensure Canada lives up to its international human rights obligations. This must change. Take action here.

For further information on the CWP case, including the legal submission, click here.