Canada Without Poverty Launches Charter Challenge to Restrictions on Charities

Canada Without Poverty

On Sept. 6, 2016, Canada Without Poverty, a registered charity that works towards the relief of poverty in Canada, announced is has filed a charter challenge against regulations that limit charities' abilities to carry out political activities. Currently, registered charities in Canada are only allowed for 10% of their work in a year to be political activities - any action that seeks to influence or change legislation or public opinion. 

Below is an excerpt from Canada Without Poverty's press release announcing the charter challenge. You can read the full press release on their site. 

For more information on how the limit on political activities is used to restrict the activities of Canadian charities, read our case study on the topic.

 
Canada Without Poverty Launches Charter Challenge to Restrictions on Freedom of Charities to Promote Changes to Laws and Policies
 
6 Sept. 2016 — Canada Without Poverty (CWP) has filed an application with Ontario Superior Court seeking a declaration that provisions in the Income Tax Act which restrict political activities of charities seeking to relieve poverty in Canada violate the Canadian Charter, particularly the right to freedom of expression (s. 2(b)) and the right to freedom of association (section 2(d)).
 
Section 149.1(6.2) of the Income Tax Act requires CWP and other registered charities to strictly limit any  “political activities” so that they are “incidental” to the overall activities of the organization – understood as less than 10% of an organization’s time and resources.   Based on court decisions, the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) has defined ‘political activity’ as any activity that “explicitly communicates to the public that a law, policy or decision of any level of government inside or outside Canada should be retained, opposed, or changed.”  Charities are required to monitor staff and  members of their organization to determine if they have made public statements about current laws or policies, report annually to CRA on all such activities and to strictly limit them if they are to exceed allowable levels.
 
Canada Without Poverty, previously named the National Anti-Poverty Organization (NAPO) has been registered as a 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 and its charitable purpose is to relieve poverty in Canada.  “Relief of poverty” has long been accepted as a charitable purpose under charities law.   “We have been granted charitable status to relieve poverty but when we try to do that, this legislation restricts what we can say, how often we can say it, and to whom we can say it. It prevents us from publicly speaking out about the laws and policies that have to be changed and it makes it impossible to meaningfully pursue our charitable purpose,” Leilani Farha, the Executive Director of CWP stated.  “The real experts in the relief of poverty is our Board of Directors, and others in our network who have experienced poverty.  These restrictions force CWP to prevent them from speaking out about the causes and solutions to poverty in Canada,” Ms Farha stated.
 
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“The restrictions on participation by our members in public policy discussions related to poverty exacerbates their political marginalization. Canadian government and experts around the world have recognized the lack of equal political participation of people living in poverty as a primary cause of poverty and of misguided public policy,” Ms Farha stated.
 
In 2014 and 2015, CRA was given special budgetary allocations to rigorously enforce the political activities restrictions in the Income Tax Act.   CWP was required to provide to CRA minutes of all meetings, copies of all emails exchanged by staff, volunteers, and board members, all publications and other communications for a three-year period.  After poring through this documentation, 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”. CRA found that CWP’s political activities included hosting a dinner where people living in poverty ate a meal with members of parliament and other decision-makers and discussed their experiences of poverty and ideas about how to address it; organizing policy summits where people living in poverty could collaborate with social policy experts and academics to develop recommendations for addressing poverty; and offering an online course on Canada’s obligations to address poverty under international human rights law, where people living in poverty could join a community of learners to discuss topics of the day.  The CRA also found that CWP published links on its website to newspaper articles and other materials which were critical of some of the government’s policies and recommended changes.   
 
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“CWP’s members find these restrictions on their freedom of expression and association to be totally unacceptable in a free and democratic society.” Ms Farha stated. “We are not arguing that there is any constitutional obligation on the government to provide a tax benefit for a particular purpose. We don’t have to: our purpose – to relieve poverty – has already been accepted as charitable.  The question is, having accepted relief of poverty as a charitable purpose, is the government permitted, under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, to restrict our members from speaking out about the changes to laws and policies that are necessary for our purpose to be achieved,” Ms Farha stated.  “We think that’s an infringement of freedom of expression and association for people living in poverty and that’s why we filed this case.”

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