Goodbye charitable audits, we won’t miss you

We were pleased to hear that the new federal government is quietly doing away with the audits meant to silence opposing voices.

We were pleased to hear that the new federal government is quietly doing away with the audits meant to silence opposing voices started by the former Conservative government.

It was lost on no one that these audits, conducted by the Canada Revenue Agency at the direction of the Conservatives, seemed to target charities that opposed government agendas and policies.

Think the David Suzuki Foundation rather than, say, the C.D. Howe Institute.

They were begun around the time when big hearings were getting underway on pipelines and oil and gas development — a Conservative government darling.

It read like a malicious quest to shut up the opposition. And sadly, to some extent, it was successful.

Charitable organizations — including those involved in advocating for social justice and poverty issues — became afraid they would be targeted if they spoke up too freely.

Such groups usually have limited funds and cannot afford to undergo the rigours of an audit, let alone pay whatever penalties might be issued.

Registered charities may only use a maximum of 10 per cent of their funds on “political activities”. This vague definition was part of the problem.

According to PEN Canada, the government allocated $13 million to the audit effort since it started in 2012.

And the whole thing never made much rational sense anyway.

Charities are almost by definition formed to help a particular group or cause. They’re trying to make things better for someone, or for the environment.

To do that effectively, to eventually solve the problems they have been formed to try to help alleviate, almost always requires some kind of political change, whether it’s a change in law, policy, or public awareness.

To tell charities they can’t actually try to solve the underlying problems that affect their cause is just dumb.

Further, these folks are often the ones on the front lines — they are the experts who can tell us what’s going on and what’s needed.

And in a free democracy we expect everyone to be allowed to voice their discontent and what they feel needs to be done to make our country a better place.

It’s almost a duty of being engaged citizens.

It was extremely uncomfortable to think that our Canadian government was willing to use its vast resources to try to silence voices they didn’t like or agree with.

That’s something those of us who’ve grown up in this country would tend to think more the province of a repressive dictatorship.

It’s un-Canadian.

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