A Victory for a More Democratic, Participatory Canada

In a welcome move, the Federal Government has responded immediately to today’s expert panel recommendation to end the political activity audits of charities begun under the Harper government.

National Revenue Minister Diane Minister Lebouthillier “has asked the CRA to suspend all action in relation to the remaining audits and objections that were part of the Political Activities Audit Program, initiated in 2012”, according to the government’s media release.

The Centre for Free Expression, along with 21 other organizations, expressed support for the panel’s report and called on the government to act, as did shortly thereafter.

A key recommendation of the expert panel was to “amend the Income Tax Act by deleting any reference to non-partisan ‘political activities’ to explicitly allow charities to fully engage, without limitation, in non-partisan public policy dialogue and development, provided that it is subordinate to and furthers their charitable purposes.”

“This is a victory for public participation in the democratic process,” said James Turk, director of the Centre for Free Expression.

The political audits were focused on 60 charities, starting with environmental groups that had been critical of the Harper government’s energy and pipeline polities but extended to others with which the government had differences.

“This was not about partisan political activity that is rightly banned,” said Turk, “but about allowing charities to engage in policy discussions.” He added that the audits had created a chill that spread throughout the sector and sapped the resources, often for years, of the charities being audited.

Turk said he hopes the report will become the blueprint to reform Canada’s outdated rules governing charities and their right to participate in the democratic process.