According to a federal government document issued in 1996, “The Charity Industry and its Tax Treatment”, charities are defined, for tax purposes, in this fashion:
The courts have defined four major categories for charitable purposes. In order to fall into one of these categories, an organization must carry on at least one of the following activities: (1) relief of poverty (e.g. food banks and organizations that provide disadvantaged persons with clothing or furniture), (2) the promotion of religion (the organization must have an element of theistic worship in order to be recognized, and the activities must serve the common good), (3) the promotion of education (the activities must include a substantial educative aspect or be geared to the development of the mental faculties or to advancing a branch of knowledge (e.g. museums) and (4) other activities of benefit to the community, defined by the courts (e.g. environmental protection, child welfare, volunteer firefighters, the prevention of cruelty to animals, the relief of suffering associated with aging)
The document is clear, however, what a charity is not. It is not an organization like the Sierra Club of Canada which indulges in partisan political activity. Its technique is cute. While not expressly endorsing a political party, what it did was conduct a survey, and on that basis, issue a “report card” that assigned grades to the four parties. Only a certified cretin would not understand the top of the Bell curve would be the Sierra Club’s endorsement for voters. Nothing wrong with that of course. Except when you are a “non-profit” organization that accepts donations paid for with tax refunds under registered charity number BN 1194 9789. As they stipulate:
. Organizations that carry on political activities, in whole or in part, are not charities. For example, promoting the objectives of a political party, promoting a political doctrine, persuading the public to adopt a specific point of view on a major social issue or attempting to bring about changes in legislation or government policy would all prevent registration. The Act expressly prohibits any charitable organization from carrying on partisan political activities. Thus, a charity may not give financial or other support to or oppose a political party or a candidate for political office. An organization established for charitable purposes may, however, become involved in non-partisan political activities that directly contribute to the attainment of the organization's objectives, as long as it does not devote more than 10% of its resources to those activities.
However, the area, according to this most recent report by the Sierra Club, is nebulous. http://www.sierraclub.bc.ca/quick-links/media-centre/media-clips/campaign-rules-fear-of-tory-backlash-put-chill-on-critics
Revenue agency rules allow charities, which are authorized to offer tax receipts to donors, to conduct some political action, such as encouraging the public to push for changing a particular government policy, as long as that's a minor part of their activities.
During elections campaigns, the rules become especially murky: Charities are allowed to push for policies that are in line with their own purposes, but prohibited from doing anything that constitutes "direct or indirect support of, or opposition to, any political party or candidate for public office."
But non-profit organizations, or the non-profit wings of organizations strike up a more militant stance than organizations like the Suzuki Foundation that have a charitable orientation. Elizabeth May complained during the election campaign on September 26th, that “What a crime it is that David Suzuki can’t say anything in an election campaign because of its charitable status. This is appalling.”
Executive director Steve Hazell said that the Suzuki Foundation was sufficiently intimidated by potential Canada Revenue Agency reprisals that a scan of their website revealed inoffensive ‘pablum’. Most environment organizations are charities who are cautious with their statements. May insists that cuts to the BC Chapter of the Sierra Club during her tenure as executive tenure were retribution for the positions she took.
If this was indeed the case, it was long over-do. That the memberships of three population stabilization or immigration-reduction organizations should have to pay for the full freight for their membership fees for their organizations while these hypocritical freeloaders in the Sierra Club should enjoy generous tax rebates is outrageous to say the least. Why should they receive my money because their Sierra Club gave the Green Party an A- on its report card but I can’t receive any of their money via a tax rebate when Immigration Watch Canada gives that same Green Party an F- for promoting an immigration policy that would hike greenhouse gas emissions by 38% and accelerate the loss of prime farmland? Advocacy is advocacy.
I find the whole Canadian ethic of the state subsidy of cultures and ideologies philosophically problematic. Be a Liberal, a Tory, a Catholic, a Hindu, an advocate of an environmental cause. But don’t make me underwrite your missionary work.
An advocacy group that fraudulently harvests membership subscriptions and donations because it enjoys charity status should be exposed for two reasons. One, exposure and de-regulation would lesson would lessen the load one everyone or two, it would allow government to deploy the liberated money to bona fide charities.
It is ironic to think that the Sierra Club and the environment NGOs feel hard done by the charities rule book. The only problem with the rule book is that it doesn’t weigh ten tons and it wasn’t throw right on top of them ten years ago.