Authored by Philip Milley.
On January 20, 2016, the Honourable Diane Lebouthillier, Minister of National Revenue (“MNR”), announced that the Canada Revenue Agency (“CRA”) will be winding down the political activities audit program of registered charities.
The news release acknowledged the critical role that charities play in Canadian society and their valuable contribution to public policy and public debate. It also recognized that in order for charities to continue to make these significant contributions, they need “to be assured they are operating in a regulatory environment that respects and encourages” this work. Along with the audits, the MNR highlighted that the CRA also conducts educational efforts to help charities understand the rules of registration; the audits only confirm compliance with those rules.
The release also spoke to the general results of the audits. Namely, the program has shown that charities are in substantial compliance with the rules regarding involvement in political activities. As a result, the CRA will complete all existing audits, being any audits which have already been commenced, but no new audits will be undertaken.
Finally, the release reaffirmed the Government’s commitment to openness and transparency as well as ongoing and timely engagement with the sector. It also reaffirmed the Charity Directorate’s independence as a fundamental principle that must be protected, stating that the “Minister of National Revenue does not and will not play a role in the selection of charity audits or in the decisions relating to the outcomes of those audits”.
The release provided the following quick facts:
- To date, of the 30 completed political activities audits, only 5 resulted in a determination to revoke registration, all of which were primarily based on factors that were beyond their involvement in political activities. Any charity that has had its registration revoked always has the right to appeal the revocation.
- There are 24 more audits already underway and scheduled for completion. These audits will continue so that the CRA can address any serious deficiencies, consistent with the approach used in the regular charities audit program.
- The six remaining charities that were selected for audit will not be reviewed under the political activities audit program.
- The CRA registers charities under the Income Tax Act and monitors the sector to ensure registered charities continue to comply with the Act’s requirements.
- Charitable registration comes with privileges, such as issuing official donation receipts, and obligations, such as complying with the Act’s requirements related to their involvement in political activities. The Act permits charities to carry out a limited amount of non-partisan political activities in support of their charitable purposes.
- The rules regarding the political activities of charities have been in effect since 1985, and are outlined in the CRA’s Policy Statement CPS-022, Political Activities, which was published in 2003.
- Of the approximately 86,000 charities in Canada, about 500 report carrying out political activities on their annual information returns to the CRA.
- As part of its regular audit program, the CRA audits approximately 800 to 900 charities every year.
Despite the winding down of the political activities audit program, charities should continue to exercise care and diligence in abiding by the parameters of the Income Tax Act and the CRA guidances, not only to ensure compliance with all the rules surrounding the operation of the charity, but also to uphold the high standard set before them in Christian ministry!
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.