OTTAWA – Today marks the close of the federal government’s 10-week public consultation on the rules governing how charities engage in public policy work. Over 24,000 Canadians submitted letters urging the federal government to reform charity law to end restrictions on charities’ free speech.
In addition, hundreds of charities and nonprofits from a variety of sectors—including health, labour, environment, international development and more—made formal written submissions and participated in in-person consultations. The strong response to the consultations demonstrates remarkable unity from Canada’s 170,000 charities and nonprofits, which employ over 2 million Canadians.
“The message from Canadians and the organizations they support is clear: Canada needs a new law to protect charities’ free speech,” said Tim Gray, Executive Director of Environmental Defence. “The law must be changed if it is to reflect that Canada is an open, democratic nation, where free speech matters and where all Canadians deserve a voice in government decisions through organizations they support.”
Imagine Canada, an umbrella organization that strengthens and supports the charitable sector, held focus groups and led the effort calling for legislative reform. “There is clear support from organizations across the country for a legislative amendment that ends restrictions on the public voice of charities. Charities operate for the public benefit, their contributions to creating good public policy are present throughout society and this engagement should be encouraged, not limited,” said Bruce MacDonald, President and CEO of Imagine Canada. “This important change would lead to more organizations engaging in the public dialogue which ultimately furthers their missions.”
The request is a legislative amendment to the Income Tax Act to change its regulatory focus from a charity’s activities to its purposes. A focus on purposes would mean that charities are no longer restricted in the activities they undertake to achieve their purpose. Legal scholars and judges have long supported this change, calling the current approach ambiguous, arbitrary, and confusing.
“In order for civil society to thrive in Canada, charities and nonprofits need the freedom to determine how to achieve their goals. This simple legislative change will give organizations the certainty they need be innovative and discover the best ways to work for and with the communities they serve,” said Cathy Taylor of the Ontario Nonprofit Network. “This change brings Canada in line with countries around the world that have updated their laws to encourage rather than discourage the voices of charities and nonprofits.”
Reviewing the rules on charities’ involvement in public policy work was promised in mandate letters to the Minister of National Revenue and Minister of Finance in response to the outcry over political activity audits of many prominent charities under the previous federal government. In January, the federal government announced the winding down of the political audit program, but allowed over 20 audits to continue. The audits have had a silencing effect on the charitable sector.
A five-member expert panel will now use the letters and submissions from charities and nonprofits to make a recommendation to government. The panel’s report is expected in March 2017.
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About Environmental Defence
Environmental Defence is Canada’s most effective environmental action organization. We challenge, and inspire change in government, business and people to ensure a greener, healthier and prosperous life for all. environmentaldefence.ca
About Imagine Canada
Imagine Canada is a national charitable organization whose cause is Canada’s charities. Our three broad goals are to strengthen the sector’s collective voice, create opportunities to connect and learn from each other, and build the sector’s capacity to succeed. imaginecanada.ca
About Ontario Nonprofit Network
The Ontario Nonprofit Network (ONN) is the provincial network for the approximately 55,000 nonprofit and charitable organizations across Ontario. ONN brings the diverse voices of the sector to government, funders and business to create and influence systemic change. theonn.ca
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