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An ounce of prevention is an administrative violation
July 25, 2014 3:52 PM   Subscribe

Relieving poverty is charitable, but preventing it is not. Oxfam Canada, while renewing its charitable status, got into an argument with the Canadian Revenue Agency over its purpose.

This decision by the CRA seemingly relies on a 12 year old policy statement. However, the distinction is not made in the CRA's own Model Policies.

This is far from the only controversy surrounding charitable organizations in Canada. Since 2012, the CRA has been doing significant audits of the political activities of charities, primarily those focused on environmental and human rights issues. A recent study by Gareth Kirkby, a master's student at Royal Roads, has found that "the current federal government is corrupting Canada's democratic processes by treating as political enemies those civil-society organizations whose contributions to public policy conversations differ from government priorities."

In addition, the government has been cracking down on alleged links to terrorism by charitable organizations. This has caused some awkwardness, such as admitting in court that "a charity can both be a registered charity and a terrorist organization, at the same time."
posted by Lemurrhea (40 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
Note: if you have the time, the "recent study" link, the thesis, is a fascinating read in full.
posted by Lemurrhea at 3:53 PM on July 25 [3 favorites]


They've also decided to audit PEN Canada. Fuck Harper and all his works. I don't even recognize this country any more.
posted by jokeefe at 4:06 PM on July 25 [17 favorites]


Harper wants everyone except a small cabal to need their poverty relieved, one cheque at a time. They want to make sure people enter a poverty status and never, ever leave it.
posted by Yowser at 4:11 PM on July 25 [2 favorites]


So, the Harper Government hates scientists, a working financial system, democracy, pensions, women, lakes, counting people, and now charities.

Is there anything the Harper Government likes? I mean, besides pipelines?
posted by jacquilynne at 4:19 PM on July 25 [18 favorites]


Money, jaquilynne, they like money.
posted by sauril at 4:21 PM on July 25 [7 favorites]




I am very concerned we're heading this way in the UK, with the recent (partly unsuccessful) attempt to curb non-party political lobbying by charities (because some Tory MPs got their inboxes filled with emails about things their constituents cared about, WTF). There was this undercurrent of of course you should help the poor, helpless, downtrodden people/animals/trees, but don't you dare attempt to tackle the systematic issues that cause them to be poor/helpless/downtrodden in the first place.

Oh hello Victorian philanthropy, it's so nice to see you again. Let me show you to the match girls.

Ugh.
posted by Helga-woo at 4:50 PM on July 25 [2 favorites]


I need to remember to check the Beaverton for topical articles.

And Helga-woo, we have a similar campaigning restriction - if I remember it accurately, a charity can do 0 partisan activity, which is public lobbying for or against candidates (even to the point of "thank you to party XYZ for putting foo in the budget), and only up to 10% of the activities can be political, which is outreach/awareness and such. It has to be mainly direct-to-users services. Except for expert testimony/talking to parliamentary committees, which for some reason isn't considered political. It's all kind of a clusterfuck.
posted by Lemurrhea at 4:53 PM on July 25


The sad thing about the Beaverton articles, particularly the first one? I that before I clicked through and saw the page I actually thought it plausible.
posted by aclevername at 4:55 PM on July 25 [1 favorite]


Wow remember when emigrating to Canada was seen as a way to escape US polical corruption.
posted by humanfont at 4:58 PM on July 25 [2 favorites]


It is worth noting that out of the first $5 million spent to audit 900 charities, only one lost its status.
posted by nubs at 5:10 PM on July 25 [1 favorite]


In the 1978 motion picture "Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band", which I had previously taken mostly as just an artifact of the drug-fueled excess of the late-70s entertainment industry, the villains are a charismatic rock group, played by Aerosmith, who call themselves F.V.B. (or "Future Villain Band.") In the film they hypnotically condition their army of young minions using the mantra:
We hate love. We hate joy. We love money.
So I guess what I'm asking is.. does anybody really know what Steven Tyler is up to these days?
posted by Nerd of the North at 5:20 PM on July 25 [6 favorites]


I was having coffee with a university friend of mine who became an MLA, and we both follow politics like other people follow sports. Anyway, he thinks that it's no sure thing that the Conservatives will lose the next election, although it may be a minority parliament.

So... 5 more years! 5 more years!
posted by KokuRyu at 5:21 PM on July 25


Note: if you have the time, the "recent study" link, the thesis, is a fascinating read in full.

An MA in Professional Communications at RRU costs $22K. The guy that wrote that has got balls, that's for sure, because I can't quite figure out who would employ him with a thesis like that.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:30 PM on July 25 [1 favorite]


humanfont: "Wow remember when emigrating to Canada was seen as a way to escape US polical corruption."

Wow! You're right. That seems like just yesterday. Is the whole world going to hell in a hand basket?
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 5:48 PM on July 25


Ugh. I work in ... another department in the federal government that is responsible for policy regarding charities, and social finance, and community development. People are PISSED OFF about this, and until this morning it wasn't even on our radar. When the CRA makes a major policy decision like this and seemingly doesn't consult any other departments, and then claims it's not 'politically motivated'....yeah.
posted by deadtrouble at 6:36 PM on July 25 [4 favorites]


Canada as of late has been completely corrupted by oil money, but we've always had a dangerous reliance on extractive industries and a horrific record of colonial violence against indigenous peoples. I'm not saying there aren't good reasons for our shiny facade, but we have to honestly deal with the root problems of the rot in our civil society if we hope to have any chance of addressing it.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 6:39 PM on July 25 [3 favorites]


Sad to see that whatever is wrong with the US seems to be contagious.
posted by localroger at 7:09 PM on July 25


If you want to pay for political activity, fine, but don't do it on the taxpayer dime.
posted by jpe at 7:19 PM on July 25


Not that they would necessarily be better, but FWIW "Liberals open up wide lead on Conservatives".
posted by Poldo at 7:22 PM on July 25


Sad to see that whatever is wrong with the US seems to be contagious

Yeah, because clearly our problem is that we're overzealous in stopping political groups from claiming nonprofit status.
posted by jpe at 7:22 PM on July 25 [1 favorite]


I am very concerned we're heading this way in the UK, with the recent (partly unsuccessful) attempt to curb non-party political lobbying by charities

Same dynamic in the states, where the left is trying to staunch lobbying by right wing groups like the Koch brothers' various organizations.

Very concerning.
posted by jpe at 7:28 PM on July 25


I don't know, maybe he was being diplomatic, but I heard and interview with the executive director of Oxfam on CBC 690 (Vancouver) earlier, and he said it had to do more with "lawyers and bureaucrats" than the politicians. Interestingly, the Harper government has cut funding to CRA (just typing those letters give me the willies).

The people that really give me the creeps are the Border Service Agency people. There is a port of entry near where I live, and they're always at Starbucks lounging around in their body armour and their guns.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:31 PM on July 25


"Liberals open up wide lead on Conservatives".

The polling numbers (who knows how accurate the stupid polls are these days anyway) are only meaningful on a riding-by-riding basis. Because of first-past-the post, a sample of "1624 Canadian voters" is meaningless, really, if you're trying to read the tea leaves to see who may win the election.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:34 PM on July 25


Sad to see that whatever is wrong with the US seems to be contagious.

I think we are once again underestimating other places' capacity for developing their own political messes. America doesn't need the hat-tip, yo.
posted by psoas at 9:50 PM on July 25 [4 favorites]


You are prohibited from locking the door until the horses are out of the barn.
posted by Pudhoho at 11:20 PM on July 25 [1 favorite]


I seriously doubt if the CRA was given, or would obey, instructions to harass charities the Conservatives didn't like. The more likely scenario for me is that they were given a set of onerous rules, a budget, and a mandate to enforce them, and the sheer bulk and institutional inclination of the CRA did the rest. Oxfam is just collateral damage.

The CRA doesn't really like charities anyway, given how many charitable donation tax scams there are, and was probably delighted at the chance to put them under stricter scrutiny.
posted by Grimgrin at 11:36 PM on July 25


"Relieving poverty is charitable, but preventing it is not," the group was warned.

"Preventing poverty could mean providing for a class of beneficiaries that are not poor."


This is absolutely ideologically driven.
posted by cotton dress sock at 11:45 PM on July 25 [3 favorites]


Personally, I have a rule to never donate any money or resources that might help someone in the middle east or is focused on helping Islamic folks.

employed Guantanamo detainee Boudella el Hajj - now cleared of all wrongdoing, American authorities have admitted that he was wrongly detained for over 6 years, and has been released.

As it is a crime to give to the wrong charity in the US. By coincidence, the wrong charities are islamic ones (it is not a crime to give to the KKK).
posted by el io at 11:59 PM on July 25 [1 favorite]


My mom has a quote hanging above her desk: "When I fed the poor, they called me a saint. When I asked why the poor were hungry, they called me a communist."
posted by Anyamatopoeia at 6:49 AM on July 26 [14 favorites]


If you want to pay for political activity, fine, but don't do it on the taxpayer dime.

It's pretty much impossible to do anything without a dime belonging to a taxpayer, since it's essentially impossible to avoid paying any taxes and so everyone is a taxpayer. However, in addition to that, political activity in Canada actually is by design subsidized with public funds since there's an income tax deduction for donations for to political parties.

But Oxfam and Amnesty International and the Suzuki foundation aren't engaging in political activities. They're doing things ad promoting things that have policy implications, sure -- just about everything that actually matters does. What kind of charity project wouldn't have policy implications?
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 8:34 AM on July 26 [6 favorites]


An MA in Professional Communications at RRU costs $22K. The guy that wrote that has got balls, that's for sure, because I can't quite figure out who would employ him with a thesis like that.


I'm confused by this ... Someone who writes a masters thesis that gets actual real-world attention probably has no trouble finding a job.
posted by lunasol at 12:11 PM on July 26


(Or at least no more trouble than your typical grad looking for a job in the policy/NGO world.)
posted by lunasol at 12:19 PM on July 26


What kind of charity project wouldn't have policy implications?

Actually feeding the poor. What they're trying to do is change policy, and that's not a proper object of charity. Hence the scrutiny.
posted by jpe at 2:23 PM on July 26


What kind of charity project wouldn't have policy implications?

Actually feeding the poor.


That's a conservative perspective. The default liberal/social democratic view - and practice in Canada for the most part, until recently - is that this is an (ideally temporary) obligation of government. This move is one of many Conservative efforts to flip those obligations, structurally, and in popular opinion. And it's being done in Harper Co's typical sneaky, snaky style. Slowly, systematically, both through the back door and right in front of our eyes.
posted by cotton dress sock at 4:16 PM on July 26 [2 favorites]


So that special anti-political task force takes requests. What right-wing organizations might not be handling their float with optimal efficiency, I wonder?
posted by cotton dress sock at 4:20 PM on July 26


On "feeding the poor" as something with no policy implictions: The policy implication of this seems clear to me: The poor are hungry. The poor deserve to eat. Whatever policies in place to ensure the poor are not hungry are inadequate and need to be fixed.

The policy implication seems to be that some combination of the following should be raised: the minimum wage, the employment rate, welfare rates, welfare eligibility, ei rates, ei eligibility, disability rates, disability eligibility. What needs to be changed so that the poor eat?
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 9:19 AM on July 27 [4 favorites]


If only I had a penguin...: "The policy implication seems to be that some combination of the following should be raised: the minimum wage, the employment rate, welfare rates, welfare eligibility, ei rates, ei eligibility, disability rates, disability eligibility. What needs to be changed so that the poor eat?"

Best of luck, Canada and Britain. We in the USA are SO screwed. Perhaps one day we will see heads on pikes, but I'm not holding my breath.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 9:19 PM on July 27


"The policy implication seems to be that some combination of the following should be raised: the minimum wage, the employment rate, welfare rates, welfare eligibility, ei rates, ei eligibility, disability rates, disability eligibility. What needs to be changed so that the poor eat?"

All of these things. I've mentioned my travails with being on disability before, I see no need to belabour the point again. But somehow they expect someone who is disabled to somehow spend no more than $479/month. In Toronto. For rent. That's so far beyond unreasonable you can't see it with a telescope.

Add in to that many of us on disability are so because of mental illnesses, and solitude is something some subset of us really need in order to get healthier. The only way you're getting away with $479 rent is to a) share, or b) live in a shoebox with bedbugs.

What used to be our social safety net has been almost(?) purposely designed so that once you're in it, getting out is virtually impossible. When you're scrabbling after every penny, it's really fucking hard to get mentally healthier and off disability--and that doesn't even come close to addressing the needs of people who will be on disability for life, watching rents and groceries and transportation costs climb while the monthly rate given stays the same or goes down.

It's completely ridiculous.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:15 PM on July 28 [1 favorite]


The pushback begins.
posted by Lemurrhea at 5:08 AM on August 11


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