Nonprofit sector leaders urge federal government to address issues raised by Taxpayer’s Ombudsperson’s investigation into Islamophobia within the CRA swiftly and decisively
On Monday, March 27, The Taxpayer Ombudsperson released their report Charity Begins with Fairness: More to Explore, which contained the results of their investigation into evidence of anti-Muslim bias within the Research and Analysis Division (RAD) of the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). Disappointingly, it is largely inconclusive due to a lack of access to key information and files. Moreover, we are disappointed because the limits of the office were known before the review took place.
Islamophobia gravely impacts the safety, inclusion, wellbeing and socioeconomic conditions of Muslims around the world. It intersects with and is compounded by other forms of oppression including racism, xenophobia and misogyny. Islamophobia harms Muslim organizations, Muslim nonprofit workers, and Muslim communities served by Canadian nonprofits. Additionally, Islamophobia isn't just an issue for Muslims. It undermines common goals that we all share for religious freedom, security, and equity for all people.
It is currently Ramadan, the holiest month of the year in Islam and giving, often to Muslim charities and nonprofits, is one of the main ways that Muslims mark this occasion. Muslim organizations contribute to our society as community gathering spaces, providers of social services, places of worship, and more.
We, the undersigned, call on the government to take swift and decisive action to:
- In the spirit of the recommendations by the Muslim Association of Canada and the National Council of Canadian Muslims, implement a solution to ensure an immediate alleviation of potentially discriminatory RAD audit practices during the ongoing National Security and Intelligence Review Agency (NSIRA) review while also allowing Canada to maintain its national security obligations. To meet this timeline with the requisite urgency, consider handing over time-sensitive RAD responsibilities to another team within government on an interim basis. In the long term, create strong oversight and accountability measures for the duties of the RAD that ensure their equitable application;
- Address all issues observed by the Taxpayer’s Ombudsperson within the report;
- With regards to the recently announced NSIRA review;
- Ensure that NSIRA has access to all required information, personnel and documents to carry out a fulsome and conclusive review into the issues raised by Muslim charities;
- Ensure that the NSIRA review is carried out in a timely manner (i.e. taking less than 6 months) with adequate resourcing to make this possible;
- Ensure that the results of the NSIRA review are released publicly;
- Commit to addressing all issues that are discovered through the NSIRA review;
- Act on the Taxpayer’s Ombudsperson’s recommendation related to improving unconscious bias training. We additionally urge that the training address anti-Muslim bias specifically and that measures be taken to ensure learnings from the trainings are applied by staff; and
- Take concrete action to ensure the CRA and other government agencies are not discriminating against Muslims or Muslim institutions.
The Taxpayer’s Ombudsperson report did not meet its mandate and was not able to present conclusions or make recommendations on how charities are selected for audits or the quality of service that charities receive during the audit process. The report observes that it is problematic that ‘operating outside of Canada’ is considered a factor based upon which a charity may be audited. It also noted several other issues with the decision process related to whether to audit a charity which could create bias. While there were several aspects of the audit procedures themselves which could also create bias, the Taxpayer’s Ombudsperson found that the policies were mostly fair. However, the report was not able to assess whether they were complied with or implemented fairly based on the information they had access to.
The report was able to provide more conclusive insight into the issue of unconscious bias training at the CRA. It found that participation in training on this subject is low among staff, and that the training is of limited value due to its focus on inter-employee interaction rather than on decision-making. This is of special concern in light of instructions to staff to use intuition when investigating non-compliance. The report’s one recommendation suggests actions to improve unconscious bias training. While unconscious bias training is important, the issue at hand is not bad actors. This is about systemic features of how we govern, and the potential impact these features have on some communities over others. Bias training in and of itself will not address the systemic issues that are problematic.
We want to acknowledge the leadership of the Muslim community in bringing the issue of Islamophobia to light and fighting for change to ensure Muslim organizations receive fair and respectful treatment from the CRA, like any other Canadian organization.
- Community Foundations of Canada
- Egale Canada
- Imagine Canada
- Volunteer Canada
- United Way Centraide Canada
- Disability Without Poverty
- OCASI-Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants
- Nunavut Association of Non-Profit Organizations
- The Cohesia Institute of Canada
- Pillar Nonprofit Network
- Network for the Advancement of Black Communities
- DEEN Support Services
- The Vantage Point
- Laidlaw Foundation
- Inspirit Foundation
- The Canadian Council of Muslim Women
- Edmonton Chamber of Voluntary Organizations
- Ontario Nonprofit Network
- Volunteer Alberta
- Calgary Chamber of Voluntary Organizations
In 2021, two reports shed light on evidence of anti-Muslim bias within the Review and Analysis Division of the Charities Directorate at the CRA:
- Under Layered Suspicion A Review Of CRA Audits Of Muslim-Led Charities by the National Council of Canadian Muslims and the Institute of Islamic Studies at the University of Toronto; and
- The CRA’s Prejudiced Audits Counter-Terrorism and the Targeting of Muslim Charities in Canada by The International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group.
In 2021, in response to these reports and advocacy by Muslim leaders, the federal government tasked the Taxpayer’s Ombudsperson with investigating this issue, as well as other issues that organizations from equity-seeking organizations face when dealing with the CRA. Unfortunately, the Office of the Taxpayer’s Ombudsperson raised several concerns about their ability to conduct a thorough and comprehensive investigation because the CRA was not able to or did not provide them with access to all relevant files due to legislative, privacy and security reasons. In response to this issue, Muslim nonprofit leaders issued an open letter with several recommendations to ensure the integrity of the investigation.