The government has always had the power to revoke an organization's charitable status. But it didn't happen very often; and, Carol Goar writes
, the rules were clear:
They siphoned donations into their founders’ own pockets, they provided a front for shadowy groups or they used most of their funds for administration.
But things changed with the advent of Stephen Harper:
The Conservative government, angered that environmentalists were tying up pipeline projects in the West, tightened the regulation of charities. It required them to provide a detailed account of their political activities, imposed tough penalties on those that spent more than 10 per cent of their funds on advocacy and gave CRA $8 million to conduct a special audit.
The announcement sent a ripple of unease through the non-profit sector, but there was no wholesale panic. Most charities assumed the government would target a handful of prominent environmental organizations and leave the rest alone. That was a reasonable interpretation of the signals Stephen Harper and his colleagues were sending at the time. Joe Oliver, then natural resources minister, had lashed out at “radical environmental groups
” for undermining the economy. Former environment minister Peter Kent had accused of them of “laundering offshore funds
for inappropriate use.” But over time the scope of the blitz widened
. CRA is now auditing churches, human rights organizations, animal welfare groups and anti-poverty coalitions. There are fears the two-year crackdown will be extended, putting non-profit organizations under an indefinite regime of increased surveillance.
The reason was simple. Charities almost invariably are opposed to Harper's agenda. And, like the man he more and more resembles -- Richard Nixon -- Harper has turned to government agencies to harass and dispose of his enemies.
The effect on charities has been devastating. Gareth Kirby writes in a recent paper:
I find that an advocacy chill is affecting charitable organizations that advocate on public policy issues though it varies in intensity and extent from organization to organization. I find that there is evidence in the data that the government is attempting, with some successes, to narrow society’s important policy conversations. Finally I find the data suggest that the current federal government is corrupting Canada’s democratic processes by treating as political enemies these civil-society organizations whose contributions to public policy conversations differ from government priorities.”
That's what Harper is all about: corrupting civil society.