March 25, 2023

As an alternative of heavy-handed suspensions and revocations, the CRA must be working with charities to assist them enhance.

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Rising up, I heard tales from my father, a public servant in Tunisia, of how some revered political opponents of the Tunisian president would instantly discover themselves the targets of “audit companies” once they “crossed” political boundaries, took opposing political stances or gently criticized the regime. My father, a finance inspector, had first-hand information of those administrative shenanigans, whereby the state makes use of its establishments to “punish” these with whom it doesn’t see eye to eye.

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A few years later in Canada, a long-time Canadian union activist instructed me, laughing, about how he and a bunch of his comrades have been audited by the Canada Income Company (CRA) after they have been “impolite” in a gathering with a high-profile politician.

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Exaggeration, paranoia, legends? How will we distinguish between the reliable work of presidency businesses versus these influenced by political pursuits or discrimination? Solely equity and transparency can information us by means of these advanced meanders into attainable political interference and abusive administrative or legislation enforcement practices — amongst which CRA audits of Muslim charities have acquired the best criticism in recent times.

Final 12 months, just a few weeks earlier than the Islamophobia summit that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “supplied” Muslim Canadians as a gesture of fine will to fight hate and racism confronted by the group, I wrote an op-ed during which I highlighted two current reviews by the College of Toronto Institute of Islamic Research and the Worldwide Civil Liberties Monitoring Group. Each uncovered disproportionate and biased audits of many Muslim charities by the CRA’s Evaluate and Evaluation Division (RAD), which is liable for countering terrorist financing.

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Human Concern Worldwide (HCI) is an apparent instance of how these “biased” audits can negatively have an effect on the status and mission of those charities. HCI was registered with the CRA in 1983 and is Canada’s oldest Muslim worldwide aid charity. It has distributed practically $200 million in aid help since its inception. The CRA arrived at HCI’s doorstep in 2014 to carry out an audit, not the primary time the charity had been audited. Seven years later, in 2021, the decision got here: CRA was suspending HCI’s skill to problem tax receipts. That suspension was lifted in 2022.

Mahmuda Khan, HCI govt director, describes this audit as “disruptive, confrontational, and as an alternative of specializing in progress, it left the charity in limbo for seven years, solely to be slammed with a harsh punishment.”

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All through these years, because the CRA pointers advanced, so did the charity. HCI was a very completely different charity seven years after the audit started. It had introduced on a brand new govt staff, a brand new board of administrators, and lots of new insurance policies and procedures. In lots of facets, the suspension was outdated and served no perform of self-discipline.

Let’s be clear: RAD discovered no proof of terrorism financing and as an alternative punished the charity primarily based on administrative technical findings. The CRA predicated its suspension on the alleged noncompliance of six initiatives and the way HCI issued tax receipts, though the charity says that it didn’t interact in any inappropriate receipting practices.

Most Canadians would assume the rule of legislation requires a trial earlier than any penalty is imposed. Nonetheless, not with the CRA. HCI was by no means supplied the prospect to postpone the suspension whereas the charity challenged the findings’ validity. On this case, there was no pure justice.

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The suspension has now ended and HCI lately requested the Supreme Court docket to evaluate the CRA suspension. However after a one-year suspension, the place is the equity and transparency? That is merely what the Muslim charitable sector has been advocating for.

“Allegations of terrorism” or working in international locations torn by warfare and violence should not the identical as proof of wrongdoing. HCI and different Muslim charities shouldn’t be thought of “responsible till confirmed harmless” due to the faith of the individuals or the international locations they serve.

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As an alternative of heavy-handed suspensions and revocations, the CRA must be working with charities to assist them enhance. This could particularly be the case when a charity has not dedicated a breach that’s legal in nature, and its shortcomings are purely administrative and pose no threat to Canadians. Sources and funds raised by HCI must be channelled in direction of serving to individuals on the bottom — just like the thousands and thousands of Pakistanis at present devastated by the flooding from a current large monsoon — and never spent on preventing allegations by no means confirmed.

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Whereas the CRA professes to make use of an “schooling first” strategy, many Muslim charities, together with HCI, by no means expertise a cooperative strategy to help them in mitigating and correcting issues previous to the sanctions. As an alternative, Canada’s tax company has opted for a sanction-based technique to manage charities. This strategy does nothing to assist our nation’s rising charitable sector.

For the file, this isn’t the norm the world over. The UK’s Charity Fee is devoted to supporting charities with their compliance obligations earlier than imposing sanctions.

Canadians have persistently stepped ahead in instances of disaster to help these in want all all through the world. For the good thing about those that rely upon the generosity of Canadians, it’s about time the CRA reconsidered its regulatory strategy and realigned it with the charitable sector’s major purpose of serving to these in want.

As for my father and the Canadian union activists‘ tales, they should be instructed and retold to the following generations, so we at all times preserve our authorities and its establishments accountable.

Monia Mazigh is an Ottawa tutorial, creator and human rights activist.

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