CRA Draft Advancement of Religion Guidance Released by Access to Information Request

Authored by Philip A.S. Milley, Associate Director, Legal Affairs 

For over thirteen years, the Canada Revenue Agency (“CRA”) policy on the advancement of religion has not been updated. Over the past number of years, there has been a concern that the scope of this charitable head might be narrowed, and we are aware that some para-church organizations have faced difficulty in obtaining charitable registration. Over these thirteen years, many organizations, including the CCCC, have participated in consultations on guidelines concerning the advancement of religion. Since these consultations, the religious sector has been waiting for the release of a new or updated guidance

On October 24, 2017, lawyer Mark Blumberg, by way of an access to information request, obtained a copy of CRA’s draft guidance on the advancement of religion and charitable registration. You can access a copy of the disclosure on Blumberg’s website, globalphilantropy.ca, here.

CRA Policy Guideline Generally

CRA policy guidance represents CRA’s interpretation of the law as it relates to charities. The CRA policy guidance is, in large part, internal guidance for CRA on how it will apply the law to charities. However, CRA policy also plays a significant role in communicating the rules, standards, thresholds, and expectations that CRA has of registered charities. The recent publication by Blumberg is of great significance to the religious charitable sector. Without a clear communication of the rules under which charities are expected to operate, confusion and the expenditure of unnecessary time and expense are likely to occur.

The Draft Guidelines

The guidelines released by the access to information request are only draft guidelines. This internal document is presumably being applied to charitable regulations and religious charities. While this policy may be currently applied CRA, we await the release of a finalized version of this guidance to confirm the standards to which CRA expects charities to comply.

The 36-page draft guidelines relate to the registration of charities under the head of the advancement of religion and cover several topics that prospective charities will find of note including:
  • eligibility for registration;
  • the meaning of religion;
  • purposes and activities that advance religion, including examples; and
  • other topics such as advancing religion through a narrow focus, religious retreats, regional or national organizations, and the production and distribution of religious publications.
The draft policy does not define or regulate religion but relates solely to CRA decisions regarding eligibility. According to this draft policy, to be eligible for charitable registration, an application should clearly indicate purposes that identify:
  • the religion that is intended to be advanced;
  • the means of advancing that religion; and
  • the intended beneficiaries.
In addition to the purposes, only activities that directly further an advancement of religious purpose are permissible, as the policy indicates, not all activities conducted in the name of religion advance religion in the charitable sense. As such, permissible activities are those that
  • are clearly and materially connected to the religion’s teachings, doctrines, or observances; and
  • constitute a targeted attempt to manifest, promote, sustain, or increase
    belief in the religion to or by adherents or the public.

For purposes of registration, CRA states that the elements required by a religion for registration include:

  • a doctrine that there is a God(s) or Supreme Being(s);
  • a doctrine that adherents worship or revere the Supreme Being(s); and
  • a particular and comprehensive system of faith and worship.
The draft policy also addresses a common concern relating to activities carried on by a religious charity that also further other charitable purposes. The draft policy indicates that such activities will be considered to be advancing religion if the proposed charity can demonstrate that
  • all the requirements of the other charitable category are met (i.e., advancement of education, relief of poverty, or other benefits the community)
  • the activities are clearly and materially connected to the religious teachings, doctrines, or observations of the religion being advanced; and
  • the activities are capable of being linked by the public to the religion being advanced.
Notable portions of the policy include the discussion related to purposes and activities. As these are common areas of difficulty for charities, the draft policy indicates that purposes that advance religion should identify the particular religion being advanced, the means of advancing that religion, and the eligible beneficiaries of the purpose.
What this Means for Charities 
This draft guidance is similar in content to the draft guidance released by CRA in 2009. However, the readability of this guidance has been significantly improved, in that the question and answer format have been removed from the document.
Additionally, several important changes have occurred to the content of the guidance. First, the draft guidance includes a more comprehensive section on the advancement of other charitable purposes.  CRA has included as a requirement that the public must be able to link the activity being carried out to the religion being advanced for it to be considered permissible. A further addition to the guidance is a clear statement regarding what constitutes permissible purposes and activities.
Charities that are seeking registration or to amend their objects and activities should consult these guidelines with the understanding that they may be applicable to their application. Until a new finalized policy is published, charities should consult legal counsel to help navigate the processes related to registration.

 

Noteworthy is provided for general information purposes and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Every organization’s circumstances are unique. Before acting on the basis of information contained in this blog, readers should consult with a qualified lawyer for advice specific to their situation.