The decision by the Supreme Court of Canada not to hear an appeal by Human Life International Canada could have ominous implications for charities.
HLI Canada appealed a federal court ruling affirming Revenue Canada’s decision to strip the pro-life group of charity status because the ministry claims HLI Canada is a “political” organization. Revenue Canada said that to qualify for charitable tax status, an organization must advance all sides of an issue.
To Theresa Bell, HLI Canada’s executive director, this is manifestly absurd. Bell told The Interim that Revenue Canada’s definition of “political” could result in some strange scenarios. “Do environmental groups have to talk about the benefits of pollution?”
But Revenue Canada has not targeted MADD, environmental organizations, or any left-leaning groups. It has, however, been successful in stripping HLI Canada of its charitable tax status, and it seeks to do the same to Alliance for Life.
According to the National Post, Reform Party revenue critic Jason Kenney says Revenue Canada is targeting conservative charities. “We’re going to be opening the whole file on the confused, contradictory, sometimes just plain outrageous, application of charity law,” Kenney said. He accused Revenue Canada itself of being political.
On the other hand, Bell noted that pro-abortion Planned Parenthood not only has charitable tax status, but gets taxpayer money for its activities, which include providing input on Canadian foreign policy. Planned Parenthood is also clearly involved in political advocacy.
Bell says HLI Canada “has never participated directly in politics. We have not lobbied MPs or sent them letters. We do not endorse candidates.”
The decision to go after HLI Canada, however, might have been political. In 1993, after an HLI conference in Ottawa, former NDP MP Dawn Black complained to the revenue minister about HLI’s so-called political activities because, in Bell’s words, “HLI dared to speak the truth about abortion, sex-ed, and contraception.”
Within weeks of Black’s complaint, Revenue Canada audited HLI, and since 1994, HLI has fought Revenue Canada in court at a cost of $200,000.
In March 1998, the federal court ruled in favour of Revenue Canada, and on Jan. 21, the Supreme Court let the decision stand by not hearing the case.