Hon. Chrystia Freeland
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance
Department of Finance Canada
90 Elgin Street
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0G5
Dear Minister Freeland,
We are writing to ask for clarification and to express our deep concern about possible changes to charitable status in Canada.
In the December 2021 mandate letter, the prime minister outlined priorities for you, including to: “Introduce amendments to the Income Tax Act to make anti-abortion organizations that provide dishonest counselling to pregnant women about their rights and options ineligible for charitable status…”.
The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) believes all charities should carry out their activities honestly and ethically, with integrity.
We are concerned, however, that contrary to Charter protections of conscience, religion, thought, belief, opinion and expression, organizations may be singled out simply because they hold particular underlying beliefs about abortion and when life begins.
There is a lack of data about what specific problem or problems this change is intended to address. We ask that before any process of legislative or regulatory change is undertaken, there is research, clarification and public communication about the specific problems that are spurring the change. The need for new policy or legislation should be clearly stated and based on evidence.
Part of clarifying the problem to be addressed includes identifying the gaps in the existing system. New legislation or regulation is only needed if the current system is inadequate or unable to address the problem. The CRA has robust regulatory and compliance measures to address issues in the charitable sector. These measures focus on education and bringing charities into compliance as a starting position. The mandate letter suggests a troubling shift away from an education and compliance-first approach. It is even more disturbing that such a change seems under consideration only for certain kinds of charities. We question what the justification could be for this significant change in approach.
Further, the terms in the mandate letter raise significant concerns about the Charter-compliance of such an initiative. The phrase “anti-abortion organizations” suggests that groups could be singled out for additional scrutiny and possible denial of charitable status simply on the basis of their beliefs about when life begins. The qualifier of “dishonest counseling” offers little assistance as it is neither defined nor explained. Rather, it seems very subjective and could make the government the arbiter of acceptable opinion or belief.
We are very concerned that participation in the public square and a level playing field with respect to government programs could be subject to a values test.
We ask that any policy or legislative changes follow the principles of procedural fairness and consistency. We ask that you consider carefully compliance with Charter protections of conscience, religion, thought, belief, opinion and expression.
Please be careful not to politicize the charitable sector. Canada has a diverse charitable sector that is permitted to hold opinions and views that differ from the government. If charitable status were to depend on alignment with the policy of any particular government, all charities – and Canada’s vibrant charitable sector – would be at risk.
The EFC endeavours to engage in public policy issues constructively and collaboratively, seeking the good of Canadian society. We would appreciate the opportunity to meet with you or your staff to discuss these matters.
Julia Beazley, Director of Public Policy
Author: Julia Beazley