Environmental Charities Not Biggest Recipients of Foreign Cash, Tax Returns Show: Green Charities Don't Get the Most Greenbacks

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OTTAWA - The Conservatives have taken some Canadian environmental charities to task for accepting money from wealthy foreign donors to finance their campaigns against oil and gas projects.

But tax returns filed to the Canada Revenue Agency show most of the foreign money that fills the coffers of Canadian charities does not go to the environmental groups now in Tory crosshairs.

An analysis by The Canadian Press of charities' 2010 tax returns found only one of the top 10 foreign-funded charities could be considered a conservation group.

That group is Ducks Unlimited Canada. Tax returns show it has reported receiving more than $33 million from foreign sources, making it the fifth-largest recipient that year of money from outside the country.

Ducks Unlimited Canada says it receives foreign funding from its sister organization in the United States, U.S. federal and state governments, corporations, private foundations and individual contributors.

Care Canada reported the largest amount of foreign funding in 2010. It accepted nearly $99 million from foreign donors.

Most of that money came from United Nations agencies, foreign governments and the charity's international members.

Second was World Vision Canada, which reported $89 million in foreign income.

World Vision Canada says the vast majority of that money comes from gift-in-kind donations from UN organizations and international corporations with branches in Canada.

"For example, these would be things like pharmaceuticals, clothing, school supplies and books and medical supplies," spokeswoman Tiffany Baggetta said in an email.

"Then we have a very small portion that is from individual citizens who just happen to live outside of Canada. For example, sometimes we have people who sponsor a child through World Vision Canada, then they move to another country but want to continue sponsoring that child through World Vision Canada."

Third was Hamilton's McMaster University, which, like many post-secondary institutions, has charitable status. McMaster reported $43 million in foreign income.

University spokesman Gord Arbeau says last year foreign students paid McMaster $25 million in tuition fees, while the school also received $13 million for research funding and $4 million from sales of medical isotopes from its nuclear reactor.

All that money counts as foreign funding for CRA's purposes.

The charity that reported the fourth-most foreign funding was the Canadian UNICEF Committee, with $37 million. But a UNICEF Canada spokeswoman says the organization doesn't actually receive much foreign funding.

"While it appears we received a significant amount of cash from foreign donors -- we don't," Melanie Sharpe said in an email.

"That figure is almost entirely the value of donated health supplies that we send to our child survival programs in developing countries. Less than 0.5 per cent represents cash donations Canadians have made to one of UNICEF's global fundraising campaigns. ...

"According to accounting regulations all cash or in-kind donations have to be registered as revenue whether from a foreign or domestic source. …