Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Clear the Air over Charity Audits with Summer Committee Hearing, NDP Urges

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Clear the Air over Charity Audits with Summer Committee Hearing, NDP Urges

Article excerpt

Clear the air over charity audits: NDP

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OTTAWA - The New Democrats are pressing for an unusual summer meeting of a parliamentary committee to clear the air over the auditing of charities for their political activities.

New Democrat MP Murray Rankin, the party critic for national revenue, wants the finance committee to convene before Parliament resumes in six weeks, calling the matter urgent.

Rankin wrote a letter Tuesday to James Rajotte, Conservative chair of the committee, to say there are too many allegations that the audits are being used to silence opponents of the Harper government.

Since the spring of 2012, the Canada Revenue Agency has launched 52 audits of charities for their political activities, after the government ordered the special probes and eventually provided some $13.4 million for the initiative.

The first wave of audits in 2012-2013 targeted environmental groups who have opposed the government's energy and pipeline policies, but the initiative has since expanded to cover other groups who fight poverty, provide international aid and promote human rights. Many have also publicly criticized government policies.

Critics say the audits have caused an "advocacy chill," preventing the scrutinized organizations from speaking out for fear of aggravating the auditors and potentially losing their coveted charitable status.

The Canada Revenue Agency refuses to provide the names of the groups being audited, citing confidentiality provisions of the Income Tax Act.

Rankin said public hearings before the finance committee would give besieged charitable groups a safe venue to speak out without appearing to provoke the tax agency.

"It wouldn't be as if they've gone to the press and spilled the beans," he said in an interview from his Victoria riding.

"We can't let this fester much longer. We've got to clear the air. It's bad for the reputation of the CRA and it's bad for the environmental organizations and other charities that are somehow under a shadow."

Rajotte, however, said the issue has already been examined in depth at committee, most recently in the spring session of Parliament. …

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