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Harper attacks charitable public interest organizations

There is disturbing news about the Harper government’s attack on charitable public interest organizations. The federal Finance Minister has allocated $8 million to monitoring the spending of environmental and human rights organizations, and the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) is conducting extensive audits of these groups.

Those groups include The David Suzuki Foundation, Tides Canada, West Coast Environmental Law, The Pembina Foundation, Environmental Defence, Equiterre, Ecology Action Centre and Amnesty International.

CBC reports, “Environmental Defence, has received its report back from the CRA and they are appealing it. Sources said their report threatened to revoke their charitable status. Another group, West Coast Environmental Law, had auditors fly in from Ottawa to enhance the work of the local CRA team. …Social justice groups like Amnesty International Canada are also currently undergoing an audit about their political activities.”

The news report explains, “By law, charities are allowed to use a maximum of 10 per cent of their resources for political activity or advocacy, but the guidelines are clear that it cannot be partisan activity. That has been interpreted for years to mean that a group can oppose a government policy but cannot back a specific candidate in an election.”

It also notes, “During a pre-budget consultation in December, (Finance Minister Jim) Flaherty said he is considering making even more changes to rules for charities that have a political aspect.” We’ll be watching the February 11 budget for this.

Complaints against some of these groups reportedly came from Ethical Oil, a group founded by Alykhan Velshi, now the director of issues management in the Prime Minister’s Office. No specific list of funders for Ethical Oil has been made public.

The Council of Canadians, a registered non-profit organization that does not have charitable status, stands in solidarity with these organizations working to defend the environment, human rights, and the public good.