Paul Tuns

Liberal party platform vowed to strip pro-life groups of charitable tax status

In its 2021 election platform, “Forward. For Everyone,” the Liberals threatened to go after the charitable tax status of pro-life groups, including crisis pregnancy centres, that supposedly provide “misinformation” about prenatal development and abortion.

On page four of the 89-page document, in a section about “Building Back Better” after the pandemic, the Liberals state, “anti-choice organizations are actively working to spread misinformation about abortion, putting the health and safety of young people and vulnerable women at risk.”

Although the Liberals do not offer any evidence or examples of pro-life misinformation, they are presumably relying on reports by the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada (ARCC) report that claimed crisis pregnancy centres misrepresent that they are often Christian organizations, mislead abortion-minded women that they can assist them with their abortions, and lie about the legal status of abortion in Canada and in regards to the presentation of information regarding prenatal development.

The Liberal platform goes on to say, “A re-elected Liberal government will… no longer provide charity status to anti-abortion organizations (for example, Crisis Pregnancy Centres) that provide dishonest counseling to women about their rights and about the options available to them at all stages of the pregnancy.”

Many crisis pregnancy centres want to remain apolitical and are not commenting publicly on the proposed regulatory tax change that would not require a vote in Parliament to enact. One representative said in comments not for attribution that such a policy would not affect them because they do not misinform women seeking counselling with their service. According to a 2016 ARCC report, there are at least 180 pregnancy care centres in Canada and 68 per cent of them have tax exempt status.

David Cooke, campaigns manager for Campaign Life Coalition, said if the Liberals make their proposed changes to charitable tax status, “scores of Crisis Pregnancy Centres and hundreds of pro-life groups across this country will be at risk of closure.” As a result, Cooke said, “the thousands of babies they save from abortion every year will be at risk of never seeing the light of day.”

Cooke said, “Without charitable status, Crisis Pregnancy Centres could be literally taxed out of existence, especially those located in Canada’s downtown urban centres – where many women in crisis are located.” He explained, “These vital services will also lose their ability to issue charitable receipts to donors, which could result in a significant drop in giving. Cooke also said that organizations that lose charitable tax status will also have to pay property tax if they own any land or the building they occupy.

According to Pregnancy Care Canada, more than 30,000 individuals sought help last year from their 80 affiliated Pregnancy Care Centres, more than 7,000 clients received material supplies such as diapers, formula, and clothing, and at least 600 women requested and received post-abortion support.

Cooke said that stripping pro-life groups is part of a pattern for Justin Trudeau, noting that since becoming Liberal leader he has insisted that candidates for the party be pro-abortion and as Prime Minister he tried to force all companies and organizations that received federal subsidies for the Summer Jobs Program to sign an attestation of support for abortion.

Cooke said, “Another far-reaching concern is where this new Trudeau policy could take us next.” Cooke predicts that a “Liberal values test” could be “applied to every charitable organization in Canada, including churches, ministries, missions, camps, Christian colleges and schools.” Cooke told the National Post, “It’s a dangerous precedent if it does go through.”

Adam Aptowitzer, a charity and tax lawyer with Drache Aptowitzer LLP, told the Post: “I don’t see how they could come along and say, ‘If you hold this particular opinion, you no longer qualify as a charity’ without, again, re-opening this debate that Parliament for 80 years has stayed away from,” saying that elected officials have been loathe to define what is a charitable endeavour. Aptowitzer wondered: “How in the world do they expect to do this?”

The National Post asked the federal government for a comment as to “whether or not churches could lose tax-exempt status and by what metric the Canada Revenue Agency would determine whether or not information provided by such an organization constituted ‘dishonest’ counselling.” The Post reported that Jessica Eritou, a spokesman for Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland “responded with an email that re-stated the promise in the Liberal platform, but did not address the Post’s questions.”

CLC circulated an online petition that at the time of publication had garnered more than 13,000 signatures.

On Nov. 24, CLC held a rally on Parliament Hill protesting the proposed change of tax status.