Canada Calling: Canadian Muslims Concerned about New Charity Law

Article excerpt

CANADA CALLING: Canadian Muslims Concerned About New Charity Law

Faisal Kutty is a Toronto-based lawyer and columnist for iViews.com.

Canadian Muslims and Arabs have joined a campaign to fight the Liberal government's attempt to pass the Charities Registration (Security Information) Act (Bill C-16). Community leaders say the bill will allow the federal government the right to deny or revoke the charitable status of any Canadian non-governmental organization (NGO) or philanthropic group without due process.

Under the bill, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), Canada's spy agency, would have sweeping powers to strip charitable status from groups suspected of supporting terrorism overseas based on evidence presented to the solicitor general and/or the minister of national revenue.

Canada's Income Tax Act grants registered charities the right to issue tax-deductible receipts for donations. CSIS would be authorized to present evidence secretly to a federal court judge, who would weigh whether there was a reasonable probability that the group raised funds for militants. The government would not have to reveal its sources.

Solicitor General Lawrence MacAulay says that "the new act provides a fair and open process to prevent abuse of Canada's charities." Immigrant groups, civil libertarians and lawyers, however, differ with MacAulay's assessment of the new law.

Nine Canadian NGOs, including the Canadian Islamic Congress, sent a letter to MacAulay voicing their concerns. "In our view, the proposed new legislation would not only be ineffective," the groups wrote, "[but] it threatens the ability of Canada's 80,000 charities to raise the money needed to fund health research and patient support, provide social and community services, support cultural activities, provide education and literacy programs, and assist in international development and relief efforts."

While sympathizing with the stated goal of Bill C-16, which is to protect the integrity of the charitable system in Canada, Riad Saloojee, newly appointed executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (Canada chapter) says, "It will make a fair and transparent trial impossible and will have an adverse effect on legitimate charities."

There is a fear that Ottawa will use emotionally charged and ill-defined terms such as "terrorism" and "national security" to curb civil rights. "Due to widespread North American cultural stereotyping, that often equates Muslim with `terrorist,' their charitable organizations in this country could be disproportionately targeted for investigation," warned Dr. Mohamed Elmasry, national president of the Canadian Islamic Congress. "There is a very real danger that innocent Canadians and worthwhile philanthropic, educational, or developmental groups could be irreparably damaged in the investigation and reporting process."

The bill also raises fears of guilt by association, resulting in the targeting of those who support unpopular causes. "We must be vigilant to ensure that no individual or group is subjected to guilt-by-association prejudices that would compromise their freedom to support genuine, legitimate humanitarian causes, no matter how unpopular," says Dr. Ali Hindy, chairman of Salahul-Deen Mosque of Toronto.

"Agencies like CSIS rely heavily on foreign services," added Dr. Elmasry, a professor of computer engineering at the University of Waterloo. "Any foreign government could thus fabricate intelligence reports about its own political opponents, saying this or that Canadian charitable organization is giving support to what it believes are terrorist interests."

In fact, former CSIS and government officials have confirmed that the service cooperates with and exchanges intelligence with foreign agencies.

Not unlike the "secret evidence" cases in the United States that have permitted the detaining of individuals without being charged, "national security" is a trump card essentially allowing the government to ignore certain fundamental rights guaranteed by the Canadian Constitution and international human rights covenants. …