For immediate release: February 23, 2018
Protecting charities’ freedom of expression: Sector asks the Finance Minister of Canada to respect his promises in the new budget
Toronto, Ont — 17 civil society organizations working in a variety of sectors, such as health, the environment, anti-poverty and international development, are asking Finance Minister Bill Morneau to make necessary and promised changes to the laws that govern charities as part of the federal government budget that will be tabled on February 27, as proposed by the report of the government’s Expert consultation panel.
The desired changes would allow charitable organizations to carry out their work, in the name of all Canadians, free from political harassment.
The previous government had launched a series of audits to examine the political activities of environmental, human rights and international aid organizations. These audits occurred under the authority of an ambiguous and archaic legislative framework that left too much of discretion in the hands of the Canada Revenue Agency.
The current rules prevent a charity from spending more than 10 per cent of its budget to inform the community or media about the context or implications of certain changes in laws, regulations or other public decisions, even when those changes directly impact the issues the charity was established to address.
Following the election of the current government, the Prime Minister called upon the ministers of Revenue, Justice and Finance to take action, in order to guarantee the free participation of charities in our democracy, and asked them to clarify the rules around “political activity,” considering that charities contribute significantly to public debates and policies.
In March 2017, the Consultation Panel on the Political Activities of Charities—established by the Minister of National Revenue in September 2016—published a series of recommendations that sparked hope that the government’s election promises on this subject would be implemented.
However, the government has not yet acted on the Panel’s recommendations even though the Panel had proposed that the majority be adopted before the 2018 budget.
Canadian charities play an essential role. Canadians turn to them to express and defend their opinions on issues they are concerned about—such as the environment, health, international development and social justice—all with a view to building a better world. Throughout the years, charities have contributed to making Canada a better place to live. Great progress has been made in areas such as the reduction of acid rain, drunk driving, the no-smoking ban in workplaces and the establishment of standards for cancer screenings, which are all the result of charities attracting public and government attention on issues that required policy changes.
This is why the signatory organizations, civil society and the Canadian population hope that Finance Minister Morneau’s next budget will present the desired changes for a truly inclusive Canadian society that respects the freedom of expression and participation in public policy development of organizations that carry the people’s voice.
SIGNATORY ORGANIZATIONS: Amnesty international Canada, Amnesty international Québec, Association pour la santé publique du Québec (ASPQ), Broadbent Institute, Canada Without Poverty, Centre Québécois du droit de l’environnement – CQDE, Conseil canadien pour la coopération internationale – CCCI, David Suzuki foundation, Ecojustice, EcologyAction, Équiterre, Environmental Defence, Greenpeace Canada, Imagine Canada, Sierra Club Canada, West Coast Environmental Law, WWF Canada.
For more information or interview requests, please contact: Stephanie Kohls, Environmental Defence, firstname.lastname@example.org, 416-323-9521 ext 232