PEN Canada applauds "winding down" of political activity audits for charities

TORONTO, Jan. 21, 2016 /CNW/ - PEN Canada welcomed the announcement by Minister of Revenue, Diane Lebouthillier, on January 20, 2016 that the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) is "winding down" their audits of registered charities' political activities.

"There is no doubt that the program, combined with vague rules governing political activities and charities, caused a chill in the charitable sector," said Tasleem Thawar, Executive Director of PEN Canada. "We are glad that charities can once again participate in public debate without fear that they will be targeted for audits."

The audits focused on "political activity," an over-broad term that could include participation in public debate or critique of government policy. The CRA refused to provide a justification as to how they identified the charities chosen for these audits, leaving charities fearful that public critiques of government policy, despite being related to their charitable work, would result in the CRA targeting them for an audit. 

"We are especially pleased by the CRA's commitment to further clarify the rules governing political activity for charities – they should reflect the important role that charities play in public policy and public debate," Thawar said.

Background

Since 2012, the federal government has allocated $13 million to the CRA to ensure charities spend no more than 10% of their resources on "political activity".  At the time of Minister Lebouthillier's announcement, 30 audits were completed, 24 in progress, and 6 scheduled.

Out of 100,000 active charities in Canada, many of those targeted for audit dealt with environmental, social justice, and human rights issues. In July 2015, the United Nations Human Rights Committee released a report that expressed concern about advocacy chill felt by a broad sector of Canadian civil society and called on the government to avoid unnecessary restrictions on registered charities.

Upon taking office in November 2015, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asked the ministers of finance and national revenue to clarify the definition of "political activity" and develop a new legislative framework governing the financial responsibilities of charities.

Available for interview:

Tasleem Thawar, Executive Director, PEN Canada

PEN Canada is a nonpartisan organization of writers that works with others to defend freedom of expression as a basic human right at home and abroad. PEN Canada promotes literature, fights censorship, helps free persecuted writers from prison, and assists writers living in exile in Canada. www.pencanada.ca

SOURCE PEN Canada

For further information: Amy Smith, PEN Canada, asmith@pencanada.ca, 416-703-8448 ext. 27

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