Lesley Fox: Charity guidelines make it tough for animal groups to change law in Canada
The Canada Revenue Agency recently released its “proposed guidance for The Promotion of Animal Welfare and Charitable Registration”, soliciting public comments.
According to the Toronto-based law firm Blumberg Segal, there are over 700 Canadian registered charities dealing with animal welfare in Canada.
Being a registered charity makes it possible for an organization to issue tax receipts to donors. Nonprofits without charitable status are unable to issue tax receipts. Charitable status also makes it possible for an organization to qualify for considerably more grants and government programs.
What exactly is an animal welfare charity?
Under the guidelines from the CRA:
”¢ “Under common law, an activity or purpose is only charitable when it provides a benefit to humans.”
”¢ “To be charitable, the benefit to humans must always take precedence over any benefit to animals. If a purpose or activity that promotes the welfare of animals harms humans, or has a real potential to cause significant harm to humans, it is likely not charitable.”
”¢ “Organizations with one or more political purposes, as well as those with political activities that exceed the legal restrictions, are not eligible for charitable registration.”
”¢ “Applicants [for charitable status] will be denied registration if their purposes are to oppose or change or retain a law or policy of a government, or if their activities reveal that there is an unstated political purpose.”
”¢ Animal welfare charities cannot promote legislation to abolish legal practices, nor pressure the federal, provincial, or territorial governments to restrict legal practices such as trapping, hunting, animal research, and animal agriculture (factory farming), or ban specific consumer products, such as fur—even dog and cat fur. Also, charitable groups cannot try to strengthen laws to protect wildlife.
”¢ “Although political purposes are never charitable, registered charities can carry out certain types of political activities within limits [as long as it uses no more than 10% of an organization’s resources and budget, including time], as long as those activities do not support or denounce any political party or candidate; and do not fall within the definition of terrorist activity in the Criminal Code of Canada.” Smaller organizations (defined in terms of income) can get up to 20 percent allowable political activity.
Not only do these guidelines make it extremely difficult for a charity to influence any real and meaningful laws for animals, the guidelines also polarize animals and humans. It’s an “us versus them” mentality, as demonstrated by the CRA’s comment that “an activity or purpose is only charitable when it provides a benefit to humans”.
But are animals deserving of their own rights, separate from humans? Do these guidelines force charities to simply toe the line? Should charities have the right to advocate for laws for animals, without all the red tape?
These restricting guidelines can almost make an existing charity want to forfeit their status. But can these groups still survive without the ability to issue tax receipts?
The answer is yes.
After 30 years of having charitable status, in 1989, Revenue Canada (now the CRA) contacted us saying “they made a mistake” and that the Association for the Protection of Fur-Bearing Animals should have never received charitable status in the first place.
Revenue Canada said that because of our advocacy work to change law (i.e. ban the leg hold trap) and because we were distributing photos and videos depicting animals suffering in “legal traps” for their fur, our purpose was not charitable.
To save our status, Revenue Canada told us we would have to change our association’s constitution, and no longer devote ourselves to ending fur trade cruelty.
At that time, our volunteer board of directors made the decision to keep fighting for the animals as a nonprofit organization, without charitable status.
As a consequence of losing charitable status, our funding was reduced by 50 percent, a real staggering blow to our organization. But despite this loss, our organization remained active because of caring individuals who were willing to forgo a tax receipt.
We now recognize that losing our status was one of the best things to ever happen to us.
Without charitable status, it means we can push hard for legislation to ban the import and sale of dog and cat fur in Canada, work to ban cruel trapping of beavers and other animals, lobby the provinces to end coyote bounties, encourage municipalities to stop selling rabbits, urge the U.K. to stop killing Canada’s black bears for the Queen’s guards’ hats, voice our opposition against fur farms, and advocate for the protection of the few wolverines that live in Western Canada.
We are able to do all of these things, and more, because of the support of people who care more about animals than tax receipts. The bottom line: if we had charitable status it would effectively silence our organization.
As a donor, it’s all up to you.
What do you want most from your contribution to an animal protection group? Is the cause or the tax break more important to you? Do you think a charity should be able to heavily influence legislation? What is the primary purpose of an animal charity anyways?
To read the “proposed guidance for The Promotion of Animal Welfare and Charitable Registration”, visit the Canada Revenue Agency website.
Public comments must be submitted by March 31.
Lesley Fox is the executive director of the Association for the Protection of Fur-Bearing Animals, a nonprofit animal-protection organization based in Burnaby.