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Anti-poverty group wins freedom of expression challenge

07-17-18

National anti-poverty group wins ground-breaking freedom of expression challenge

July 17, 2018

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

OTTAWA – In a dramatic judgment, the Ontario Superior Court has struck down restrictions on the ability of charities to publicly criticize or recommend changes to laws and policies, ruling in favour of the challenge by Canada Without Poverty (CWP), a national anti-poverty and human rights organization.

“This is an incredible victory – not only for CWP, but for Canadian democracy. There is no question that the relief of poverty is a charitable pursuit and we were granted charitable status to pursue that objective, but when we have undertaken activities to address the systemic causes of poverty and homelessness, we are restricted by the Act and threatened with losing our charitable status and the funding on which we rely,” said CWP’s Executive Director, Leilani Farha.

“Ending poverty is about much more than soup kitchens and food banks. As stated in the judgment, CWP works to relieve poverty by sharing ideas with our constituency, but the restrictions placed on our ability to even communicate information about human rights and federal policy has severely obstructed that.”

CWP launched the challenge in 2016, seeking a declaration that these provisions violate the right to freedom of expression under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. CWP was one of many organizations audited by the CRA under the Harper government and the CRA had announced its intention to revoke CWP’s charitable status, finding that it had communicated publicly with its constituencies through emails and its website, recommending for changes to law and policy, such as an anti-poverty strategy, living wage, or action to combat discrimination against people who are homeless.

“Since CWP first started in the 1970s, we have been led by a Board of Directors comprised of people with a lived experience of poverty,” said Harriett McLachlan, CWP’s Deputy Director. “People who understand poverty first-hand are a critical part of public dialogue, and having opportunities to share our stories is key to engaging in the ‘shift in perspective’ Parliament has acknowledged is necessary to address root causes.”

CWP’s purpose of the “relief of poverty” has long been accepted as a charitable purpose. In his judgment, Justice Ed Morgan notes that it is widely recognized that the effective pursuit of the relief of poverty includes enabling those living in poverty to engage in democratic processes and identify solutions. Justice Morgan also noted that the Government of Canada was unable to justify for the 10% limit on activities to recommend changes to laws and policies and that the change sought by CWP is in line with what has been recommended by the government’s own Consultation Panel on the Political Activities of Charities.

In his judgment, Justice Morgan did not accept the Attorney General of Canada’s argument that CWP was seeking a constitutional right to tax-exempt status, noting rather that CWP “seeks to pursue its existing charitable purpose through means which are self-evidently expressive and protected by s. 2(b) of the Charter”. In short, once granted charitable status to pursue a recognized charitable purpose, the government cannot restrict political speech for charitable organizations without infringing the Charter right to free expression.

In 2015, the United Nations Human Rights Committee identified the restrictions on charities in the Income Tax Act as a fundamental assault on the right to freedom of expression.

“The Superior Court’s decision reinforces the importance of fostering such democratic participation and we look forward to the bright future for public policy dialogue in Canada,” said Ms. Farha.

The full decision is available online at www.socialrights.ca/2018/cwp-v-agcan.pdf.

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About Canada Without Poverty

Canada Without Poverty (CWP) is a non-partisan, not-for-profit, and charitable organization dedicated to ending poverty in Canada. The organization was created in 1971 as an outcome of the Poor People’s Conference, a national gathering of low-income individuals, under the name National Anti-Poverty Organization (NAPO). For close to 50 years, CWP has been championing the rights of individuals experiencing poverty and marginalization through research, awareness-building campaigns, public policy development, and educational programming. See more at: www.cwp-csp.ca.

For more information or interview requests, please contact:

Laura Neidhart
Canada Without Poverty – Communications Coordinator
Phone: 613-293-2446 | Email:  laura@cwp-csp.ca