An Election Reminder to Charities: Do not engage in partisan political activities

Authored by Nevena Urosevic

On August 21, 2015, the Canada Revenue Agency (“CRA”) published an Advisory on partisan political activities. Though it is similar in content to the Policy Statement CPS-022 on Political Activities, and the guideline on Partisan political activities, it contains additional examples of partisan political activities not mentioned in CRA’s existing policies.

The purpose of the advisory is to remind charities about the prohibition on partisan political activity. This reminder comes as federal elections are approaching. Charities are cautioned to pay extra attention to their communications, funding, and involvement with any candidates or political parties at this particular time. They must ensure that their websites and social media platforms do not contain material which could be deemed to be partisan political statements, nor any links thereto. Furthermore, where a charity’s website, blog or any social media platform invites comments from the public, charities should vigilantly monitor them for partisan political statements and remove or edit such statements promptly.

The Advisory reiterates the general rules pertaining to partisan political activities, which is defined as an activity that involves the direct or indirect support of, or opposition to, any political party at any time, or a candidate for public office, whether during an election period or not. Charities risk losing their charitable status if they use any of their resources for partisan political activities. Funds, property, and personnel (volunteers, employees, and directors) are all encompassed in the term resources. Charities may, however, engage in a limited amount of political activities which are not partisan. For a wide range of resources pertaining to political activities and charities, click here.

The Advisory indicated that the following is a non-exhaustive list of activities considered to be partisan activities:

  • providing financial or material contributions to a political party or candidate
  • making public statements (oral or written) that endorse or denounce a candidate or political party
  • criticizing or praising the performance of a candidate or political party
  • organizing an all-candidates meeting or public forum in a way that could be seen to favour a political party or candidate
  • inviting candidates to speak at different dates or different events in a way that favours a candidate or political party
  • posting signs in support of, or opposition to, a candidate or political party
  • distributing literature or voter guides that promote or oppose a candidate or political party explicitly or by implication
  • explicitly connecting its views on an issue to any political party or candidate

However, the restrictions on partisan political activities do not prevent volunteers, employees, or directors of charities from:

  • helping in a political campaign, as long as they do this in their personal capacity and do not suggest they represent a charity
  • making partisan political comments in public (including on social media), as long as they make it clear they are speaking in their personal capacity and not as a representative of a charity

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.