Freedom of Expression Rules the Day for Canadian Charities

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by Alexa Briggs, CCVO Manager, Policy & Research

There was some big news for charities across Canada this week. An Ontario judge ruled that the section of the federal Income Tax Act limiting the political activity of charities has “no force or effect” as of Monday, July 16. The judge ruled that this section of the Income Tax Act is an infringement on freedom of expression for charities. Partisan activities are still prohibited – a restriction that CCVO fully supports.

This is a major development in an ongoing effort by many organizations that have argued this rule limits charitable organizations’ ability to fully participate in public debate on policy. All nonprofits, including charities, are uniquely positioned to provide insights, expertise, and commentary on policies that directly affect civil society. (See these articles for insights from Dr. Roger Gibbins, a Senior Fellow at the Max Bell Foundation, about the importance of policy advocacy.)

The federal government has the option to accept the ruling, or appeal it. CCVO previously participated in the calls for the federal government to amend this limitation and we encourage the federal government to accept the decision of the judge. Further, we encourage the federal government to accept and implement the recommendations from the Consultation Panel on the Political Activities of Charities, made in March 2017.

We have written to Honourable Diane Lebouthillier, Minister of National Revenue, and encourage other nonprofits to do the same, requesting that the federal government accept the ruling and commit to accepting and implementing the panel’s recommendations.

This issue may be particularly relevant for nonprofits in Alberta as we head into an election year. CCVO is creating an election toolkit – a resource to assist nonprofits in engaging in policy advocacy prior to, and after, the provincial election. Watch for resources and information from CCVO to start rolling out in the fall!

There are numerous potential implications for nonprofit organizations and charities as a result of this development. CCVO will continue to monitor this issue and will provide ongoing updates and analysis. Follow our blogTwitterLinkedIn and e-newsletters (sign up here) to stay informed.