Canada Accused of Politically Targeting Advocacy Groups through CRA Audits

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By Kalyan Kumar | August 5, 2014 9:43 AM EST

Amidst allegations of witch hunting the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) made an effort to come clean over the charges that it has been targeting charities with political audits, reported the Globe and Mail.

REUTERS
A woman braces against the wind and cold as she walks in Montreal, January 7, 2014. A deadly blast of arctic air shattered decades-old temperature records as it enveloped Central and Atlantic Canada and the eastern United States on Tuesday, canceling thousands of flights.

In a strong defence, CRA spokesman Noel Carisse said the CRA does not undertake any research on the political views of charities it audited. This contradicted what the head of the charities directorate Cathy Hawara had told a news paper in July that political ideology was indeed a factor it gave due weightage to in order to ensure that the focus did not tilt to one side of the political spectrum.

However, Hawara later denied it and claimed she was misquoted about the CRA's selection process. Hawara also rejected speculations that she had met Revenue Minister Kerry-Lynne Findlay in June to hand over the lists of targeted charities.

According to Hawara, her agency strikes a balance by picking groups from each of the 4 charitable categories-poverty alleviation, promotion of religion, enhancement of education and community services. In the last group comes environmental as well as human-rights groups.

Environmental Groups Bitter

The Canadian Press asserts at least half of the 10 political-activity audits audited for 2012-2013 were charities belonging to environmental groups who had opposed the government's energy policies. They included Environmental Defence Canada, Tides Canada Initiatives Society, Tides Canada Foundation, Equiterre, Ecology Action Centre, and the David Suzuki Foundation.

It was quoted in the news report that CRA had been watching groups that use more than 10 per cent of its resources on political activities, or engaging in partisan activities such as endorsing candidates which are officially forbidden. A Nova Scotia charities lawyer Richard Bridge vouches that bulk of the political-activity audits were in the environmental sector only.

Audits to expand

Despite charges of vindictiveness, the Canada Revenue Agency is planning 60 political-activity audits by 2016. It will expand the scope to include anti-poverty, animal-welfare, foreign-aid and human rights groups.

The partisan approach of CRA is reiterated by many critics who point to the exclusion of conservative think-tanks registered as charities from this audit. They include known names like Toronto's C.D. Howe Institute and the Macdonald-Laurier Institute of Ottawa.

According to Gareth Kirkby, a research scholar on political audits, the Canadian government has successfully targeted its political opponents by having set the policy agenda for CRA.

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(Photo: REUTERS / Christinne Muschi)
A woman braces against the wind and cold as she walks in Montreal, January 7, 2014. A deadly blast of arctic air shattered decades-old temperature records as it enveloped Central and Atlantic Canada and the eastern United States on Tuesday, canceling thousands of flights.
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