“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." — Leilani Farha, executive director, Canada without Poverty
Ottawa (09 Sept. 2016) — On Sept. 6, 2016, Canada Without Poverty, a registered charity that works towards the relief of poverty in Canada, announced it 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 per cent 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.
Conservative legislation infringes on freedom of expression and freedom of association
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 per cent 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.
For over 43 years, CWP has been fighting to relieve poverty in Canada
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 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.
Budget was increased to enforce restrictions on political activities
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 3-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.
- Some of CWP’s activities “created an atmosphere conducive to advocating for changes to laws and policies.”
- 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.
- 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.
“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.
CWP members told they can't speak out against government decisions and laws
“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 continued.
“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," Ms Farha said.
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 360,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE