Canada’s Bishops address charitable tax status concerns
By Deborah Gyapong
Canadian Catholic News
Photo Caption: CCCB President Bishop Douglas Crosby, OMI, of Hamilton, shown here at the last CCCB plenary.
Canada’s Catholic bishops have raised concerns with Canada’s Revenue Minister about the way the federal government classifies some religious charitable activities as political.
In a letter to National Revenue Minister Diane Lebouthillier, Bishop Douglas Crosby, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, said there is a need “to address the current and often profound misunderstandings about religion in present-day Canadian society.”
Those misunderstandings “seem to be reflected in various efforts to impose categories and definitions that many religious charities find inadequate and even unfair,” Bishop Crosby wrote in a five-page Dec. 22 letter.
The bishops were responding to the government’s consultation last fall aimed at clarifying the rules governing political activity by charities. Although the bishops welcomed the consultation, Bishop Crosby noted “the amount of time provided was insufficient for our own needs” and likely those of other religious charities.
While “advancement of religion” is one of the criteria for charitable activity, along with “the relief of poverty,” “the advancement of education,” and “certain other purposes that benefit the community in a way the courts have said is charitable,” the Canada Revenue Agency’s (CRA) categories and definitions leave religious organizations at times finding themselves “misunderstood, restricted and even unrecognizable,” the CCCB president wrote.
“Be it through a parish, a religious congregation, a synagogue, a mosque, or a temple, the activities of various religious traditions encompass worship and prayer; spiritual, moral and social teaching; and community engagement and service, including both personal involvement and interaction with others, together with efforts to improve and transform society,” he wrote, stressing the all-encompassing nature of religion.
“The Catholic Bishops of Canada would respectfully disagree with instances in the past when the CRA ruled that activities involving social engagement, ethical education, peace building and social solidarity or the promotion of the common good and respect for human life do not ‘advance religion’ and so do not meet the CRA definition of ‘religious activities.’”
Bishop Crosby said he and his brother bishops agree registered charities should not be engaged in partisan political activities, but “not all charities agree whether or to what extent there should be limitations or restrictions to their participation in a democratic society.”
Bishop Crosby also urged CRA to find language for its policies that ordinary Canadians without legal training can understand.
Many of the bishops’ concerns are also reflected in a Dec. 9 letter to the Director General of CRA’s Charities Directorate, Tony Manconi, from the Canadian Council of Christian Charities.
“Advancement of religion is also recognized as not being limited to the dissemination of religious beliefs but includes related activities, such as addressing social, moral, and ethical issues,” wrote the Council’s legal affairs director Philip A.S. Milley.