The CRA is coming for your funny money, Canadian left-wing charities. via Flickr user pagedooley.
Information accessed through the Access to Information Act shows that the think-tank Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) is being audited, and could lose its charitable status, because the government thinks material on its website is “biased” and “one-sided.” Meanwhile, other think-tanks that have decidedly right-wing agendas are operating scott-free.
And, hang on… charities can’t be biased?
What charity isn’t biased? Does UNICEF say “Listen guys, you could donate money to these starving children, which would really help them… but on the other hand, you could also use it to buy cocaine, which would be a lot of fun. And when you think about it, they’re gonna die eventually anyway.”
In order to get tax-free status, the Canadian Revenue Agency (CRA) rules state that a charity can’t spend more than 10 percent of its resources on political activity, but isn’t all charity work political activity? The whole purpose of charities is to channel money and power to places where they don’t think there’s currently enough. In a sense every charity is Kanye grabbing the mic and saying: “Canadians don't care about (e.g. ducks).”
Probably the best example of how silly these charity audits are getting is CRA’s ruling that Oxfam can’t make “preventing poverty” its goal because “relieving poverty is charitable, but preventing it is not.” Yes, you can’t be against poverty in principle because that kind of bias ignores its benefits, like character-building despair, the entrepreneurial spirit of crime, and the nutritional benefits of ramen noodles.
That’s not to say defining a charity is simple. It will always be a challenge because the special tax status is so vulnerable to abuse. If we leave it too wide open we’ll end up with “Tom’s Titties & Wings & Charity” and if we make it too narrow we’re bashing the Terry Fox Foundation for their lopsided anti-cancer bigotry. At least one National Post columnist thinks we should just scrap the special tax status altogether, but since most Canadians can see good reasons for not making, say, Bereaved Families of Ontario pay the same tax rate as Rogers, it will likely be around for awhile.
The CCPA, however, is not alone in their struggle with the CRA. Far from it. PEN Canada, whose stated mission is to help create a world where “writers are free to write, readers are free to read, and freedom of expression prevails” was hit with a CRA audit after the agency decided some of PEN’s published material “contained editorials and/or articles that appear to promote opposition to a political party.” PEN then entered into an 18-month battle with the CRA that is exhaustively documented on their website.
Teaches them right trying to promote literacy!
Here's how it begins...
Beyond the CCPAs and PENs of the world, it’s worth taking a look at another think-tank that currently enjoys tax-free charity status, one that isn’t going through a political activities audit: The Fraser Institute. This is a “charity” whose heroic mission is to protect private profits from abuse and exploitation, and to lend humanitarian assistance to an ideology that suffered several atrocities at the hands of reality in 2008.
Its big-hearted donors include Exxon Mobil, the tobacco industry, and the Koch brothers, and its totally-not-biased-you-guys-we-swear-on-the-bible (if by bible you mean “Capitalism and Freedom”). Their publications include lesson plans for teachers who want to sow doubt about climate change in their students, papers denying links between second-hand smoke and cancer, and diatribes against the minimum wage.
Please sir, can I have some more justifications of unrestrained equality? via YouTube.
But if we’re really serious about cracking down on tax cheats, then charities—whether they’re bogus, righteous, or downright gnarly—are a mere Dollarama compared to the Club Monaco of offshore tax havens. According to Canadians for Tax Fairness, Canadian money in offshore tax havens in 2013 totaled at least $170 billion. Compare that to the $8.5 billion in total charitable donations reported by Canadians in 2011, and you may notice that one of those numbers is much, much bigger than the other one.
So if the government is unleashing a small, dour army of auditors on environmental and “poverty relief” groups, it must REALLY be taking the gloves off for something that’s estimated to cost them up $8 billion a year in lost tax revenue. But it appears they’re leaving those [suede driving] gloves on and rolling out a modest “not nothing” strategy. It includes a tax cheat whistleblower program and a requirement that any international transfers over $10,000 are reported by banks, which Canadians met with an enthusiastic “We didn’t have those already?”
The CRA also has a new team of “6 to 10” people focused on international tax evasion. But it’s helpful to remember here that the government and the truth have been in an abusive relationship for years. Some recently revealed documents show that over $300 million and more than 3,100 full-time positions will be cut from the CRA budget by 2017-18, including auditors.
So we know several wealthy sociopaths (including these 450) have money in offshore tax havens, costing Canada billions, and yet the government seems stubbornly fixated on charities.
Well I have a solution.
Let’s officially designate a new charity, OTHUBERA: Offshore Tax Havens Used By Extremely Rich Assholes.
We’ll make a logo (a tropical island shaped like a middle finger) and sign up some goodwill ambassadors (Sean Connery, Gerard Depardieu). Then on Halloween, little Swiss, Bermudan, and Liechtensteinian bankers, dressed up like blood-sucking vampires can go door-to-door in the most posh suburbs of Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal with their OTHUBERA boxes, collect donations, then run home, dump them out on their bed and dream about how many numbered shell corporations they’ll start up the next morning.
I swear that will work. That will totally work.*
*idea may not actually work