Friday, October 17, 2014

Rattling The Birdcage: CRA Audit of "Bird Watchers" is Spot-On

If you've been anywhere near the #CdnPoli Twittersphere over the past couple of days, you've heard a lot of chirping about it:the Canada Revenue Agency is investigating a bunch of bird watchers for political activity. Sounds ridiculous, right?

Well, not nearly so much. And it took Greg Renouf to reveal it.

I don't want to steal too much of Greg's thunder. I highly recommend visiting Genuine Witty and reading his story. I am, however, going to quote a specific snippet and add to his analysis.

From Greg's post:

"I spent the first minute of my investigation into this story by looking up the website for the Kitchener-Waterloo Field Naturalists and making my way to the About page. Once I arrived at the page it became immediately apparent this is more than just a group of “birdwatchers”- they’re a group that’s taken on the task of protecting and preserving wildlife. Shortly into my second minute I read the last line of the group’s objectives: 

'to support public interest in nature and its preservation by supporting the enactment of wise legislation and by other means that fall within the scope of the Corporation.'

The first problem is that supporting the 'enactment of wise legislation' is a whole lot more than simple birdwatching. The next problem here is that “supporting legislation” is not a charitable activity- but there’s no problem with that- unless they’re spending more than 10% of their resources on that activity. We’ll have to leave that up to the CRA to decide- that said, if you search the KWFN on Google News, they certainly do spend a lot of time pushing this mandate."

Greg's right. The Income Tax Act stipulates that purely political activity is to be limited to 10% of an organization's spending, and may not be a primary aim of the organization. Educational activity on political matters, however, is permitted; it's how think tanks qualify for charitable and non-profit status.

"Supporting the enactment of wise legislation" is inherently political. If KWFN had instead stipulated that "informing public policy" is a central goal of their organization, they'd clearly be in the clear. Clearly.

But this is a matter of semantics, right? Right? KWFN could be stating "supporting wise legislation" -- as in specific pieces of legislation they deem to be wise -- but then simply educating people as to the potential "wisdom" of this legislation, then letting people make up their own mind about those issues, right? Right?

Sorry. But no. From a column appearing in the KWFN newsletter:

"Ontario may be facing a spring election and time is running out to pass Bill 83 [an act protecting speech on environmental issues from SLAPP lawsuits]. Please ask your MPP and political leaders to pass this law."

A column educating readers about the potential benefits of Bill 83 without asking them to support it -- entrusting to them the task of making up their own minds about it, as educated people are wont to do -- would have been well within the rules stipulated by the Income Tax Act, which the CRA is obligated to enforce, This column, advising KWFN members to take specific political action in support of a specific bill, absolutely does not.

It looks like the KWFN are not entirely innocent victims after all. The Canada Revenue Agency's audit is entirely justified. In fact, it's entirely reasonable to wonder how they've gone this long without an audit, or how they received charitable status in the first place.

No comments:

Post a Comment