Lesley Fox: Charity guidelines make it tough for animal groups to change law in Canada

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      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.



      Maureen Wagener

      Mar 5, 2011 at 8:03am

      The following is the letter I wrote to Canada's Revenue Agency:

      To whom it may concern:

      As a Canadian citizen I write to object to the proposed new charity guidelines. I find them biased, restrictive and more befitting of a dictatorship than a democracy. Other countries in the world have a completely different interpretation of the word "charity". Perhaps you could do some research on this.

      My preliminary research came up with the fact that although charity is defined as being of benefit to humanity, if you check the meaning of humanity you will arrive at:

      "The quality of being humane; the kind feelings, dispositions, and sympathies of man; especially, a disposition to relieve persons or animals in distress, and to treat all creatures with kindness and tenderness".

      Further, under the United Kingdom's "Meaning of Charity" for tax purposes, animal charities have been specifically recognized since 2006...recognized without any restrictive ties to human beings such as you propose. See said document, paragraph 11, (2:15).

      Does Canada want to go backwards or forward?

      Yours very truly,

      Maureen Wagener


      Mar 6, 2011 at 1:05pm

      I think Canada Revenue has it correct here.

      Activists who wish to change laws should run for political office.

      Loss of charitable status does not silence people.


      Mar 7, 2011 at 10:08am

      Just to add a point to clarify what I wrote earlier.

      When people rescue injured or abandoned animals and that is their sole intent, then it may be fair to say they are engaged in charitable activities. Canada Revenue may designate such organizations as charitable.

      But if the intent of an organization is to change laws, say, for instance, to outlaw all trapping, then that affects the livelihood of people who work in the trapping industry. That is a political act, and Canada Revenue should designate such organizations accordingly.

      charlene sjoberg

      Mar 8, 2011 at 6:36pm

      Well, I think Maureen Wagener could not have said it better in her comment! We ALL can't run for office but most of us who want to support or do something ourselves now CAN when not held back as a charity. This IS a democracy and I am real tired of my Canadian govt. NOT listening to the voice of the people! And, killing animals only for their fur is NOT what most Canadians want! It is time to get out of the Dark Ages. Gandhi said it best; "The greatness of a nation and it's moral progress can be judged by the way it's animals are treated." It is time that Canada changes to reflect what most Canadians feel and want. One of those changes has to be the seal hunt and banning cat/dog fur!

      Sandra .U.

      Mar 16, 2011 at 4:22pm

      What about HORSE-SLAUGHTER? What benefits me? I don,t need that, I don,t consume horse meat, but my Taxes support this! Do not agree at-all, with Horse-slaughter, what do yous think also....tks

      Korey Craft

      Mar 16, 2011 at 10:49pm

      just because humans are at the top of the food chain some "people" feel it is our right to do as we please. some other compassionate people like us, do what we can to rectify the disregard and disrespect these lesser humans put upon animals. it's hard to have a fighting chance if we have to jump over hurdles like this. rescued animals will benefit, society will benefit by seeing caring people caring. why is this so difficult to grasp??

      Marg Durrance

      Mar 17, 2011 at 3:44pm

      I am not a rich person but a true animal rights advocate, & I appreciate the receipt for income tax purpose when I do make a donation so we are both helped. Helping to change laws to abolish animal cruelty is most important and we can't all be politicians but can call on our elected politicians to present our ploys. I renew my membership with PETA e.g. every year but that is all because I don't get a receipt as I mentioned before I am not rich & need help too, so it would make a difference to me where my donations go for sure as much as I wouldn't like to admit it. Damn we need a more compassionate Government. Don't do this!


      Mar 24, 2011 at 4:11pm

      Yeah PETA! Proud member and volunteer. But it would be nice for animal rights groups to be able to keep their charitable status.

      I love The Association for the Protection of Fur-Bearing Animals very much too though, and applaud their actions and all their efforts, as I try to help out however little bit I can. Please help their campaigns any and everyway you can too ;-)

      Some of us are working to get signatures from animal rights and welfare groups from across Canada or anywhere else to sign this petition to CRA about this injustice to animals everywhere. We must stand together as one and be their voices!!!


      L. Horn

      Mar 27, 2011 at 9:46am

      This might add a bit of fuel to the fire.

      "Are humans animals?
      In: Biology, Human Origins

      Yes, humans are animals. The human's phylum is Chordata (vertebrate). The human's class is mammalia. It's order is primate (the same as apes). It's family is Hominidae (apes that have no tail and can gather food with their hands.) The Human's sub-family is Homininae. It's tribe is Hominini. It's genus is Homo and it's specie is scientifically named Homo Sapiens.

      Biologically, humans are Homo Sapiens. The (self-annointed) pinacle of the animal kingdom, but animals non-the less. Does this mean charities that advocate for Homo Sapiens' welfare could also lose their status?

      Of course, there's the whole Biblical "dominion" point of view, but many Christians stop at Genesis, and ignore or discount other passages stating that along with dominion comes responsibility and compassion. God created the Earth and it's creatures to benefit man, not to be exploited and treated in an irresponsible or "inhumane" manner.

      "In" = Not. "Humane" = Having what are considered the best qualities of mankind; kind, tender, merciful, symphathetic, etc. So should the "civilized" human system of laws limit our "best" qualities to actions favoring humans, or should they extend to those God created for our benefit and trusted to our care?

      BTW, I was brought up in a Christian household. I have great faith, but choose not to be affiliated with any particular belief system. After studying world religions my views on many things broadened, including the relationship between humankind and other animals.