Don’t Believe Everything You Read
By Geoff Braun, Director of Policy and Research
Over the past year, a number of prominent federal politicians have called into question the legitimacy of charities participating in advocacy activities. Now, Ezra Levant from Sun Media has chimed in on the topic in an August 13th opinion piece. The thorn in his side takes the form of the Council of Canadians and their position on a proposed pipeline – a position he doesn’t share. Mr. Levant is every bit as entitled to his position on the pipeline as anyone else and likewise he can endeavor to influence public perception, both as a media personality and as an engaged citizen within civil society. What is troubling (and damaging), is that in so doing, he is perpetuating myths about charities’ right (many would argue duty) to do the same.
At best, Ezra Levant’s suggestion that charities are somehow prohibited from participating in public policy debates is misleading; at worst it is yet another cynical attempt to silence charities. Mr. Levant cites the Income Tax Act when he claims that charities are somehow limited to focusing on “non-political things we all agree on.” This is utterly absurd. If this were the case, every religious group in Canada would have its charitable status revoked.
It is true that charities cannot participate in partisan political activities, like supporting a political candidate or party. But in fact, the Canada Revenue Agency affirms the important role that Canadian charities play in informing public policy and public awareness. For a summary of what is permissible, limited, and prohibited under the Income Tax Act, have a read through CCVO’s Influencing Public Policy: Rules for Charities Engaging in Advocacy, updated earlier this year.