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Press Release: Income Tax Act Charter Challenge

08-16-18

Government of Canada appeals freedom of expression win for charities, people living in poverty

August 16, 2018

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

OTTAWA – The Government of Canada announced yesterday that it would appeal the landmark case which struck down restrictions on charities’ political activities in the Income Tax Act as a violation of the Charter right to freedom of expression. At the same time, they announced the repeal of those very provisions.

In July, the Ontario Superior Court ruled in favour of the challenge by Canada Without Poverty (CWP), a small national anti-poverty organization, to provisions of the ITA, which restrict the political activities of charities. Justice Morgan outlined the critical importance of freedom of expression for people living in poverty and the necessity of their contributions and public participation for the relief of poverty. CWP has been led for over 40 years by a Board of Directors comprised of people with a lived experience of poverty.

“The decision by the government to appeal our case is troubling and frankly, wrongheaded. While we welcome the long-overdue changes to the restrictions on political activities, it is unacceptable and unnecessary that the government is doing it outside of the context of the Charter and Judge Morgan’s order,” said CWP’s Executive Director, Leilani Farha.

“At a time when Canada is on the global stage pushing for human rights in other countries, the government continues to bristle at the idea of extending human rights domestically to those without political voice. Appealing the CWP case while agreeing to amend the legislation simply as a matter of ‘good public policy’, allows for future governments to easily reverse the decision and continue to harass charitable organizations who try to hold them accountable.”

CWP launched the challenge in 2016, seeking a declaration that provisions of the Income Tax Act which restrict political activities are a violation of the he 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 in order to recommend for changes to law and policy, such as an anti-poverty strategy, living wage, or action to combat discrimination against people who are homeless.

“Let’s be clear. The Government’s announcement is not a victory. The charitable sector is not in a better position than it was after Justice Morgan’s ruling.” Laura Cattari, CWP’s Board President said.

“Yesterday, charitable organizations had a constitutionally protected right to freedom of non-partisan expression as a result of Justice Morgan’s ruling. Today, all we have is a promise from the government that it will remove the offending provisions of the ITA, but only as a matter of ‘good public policy’, not as a matter of fundamental rights.”

“The government is attempting to disassociate their decision around the ITA with this constitutional change, illustrating a disregard for the power of the independent judiciary at a time where the rule of law is under attack across the world. Prime Minister Trudeau does not decide when a law is a violation of human rights – the courts do, and as a ‘human rights’ leader he should respect that,” said CWP’s Legal Education and Outreach Coordinator, Michèle Biss.

“We find it deeply upsetting that the government is trying to gain political ground off the backs of poor people in Canada, denying their fundamental human rights which are at the core of this case,” said Ms. Farha. “They want the benefit of being seen as upholding a campaign promise, without having to recognize the rights of poor people and obey a court order.”

“Ultimately, their position is that what happened to CWP under the previous government does not violate the Charter. If they win on appeal, any future government would be free to re-introduce the same legislative provisions and the same thing could happen to the charitable sector all over again. For that reason, CWP will continue to fight for the rights of people living in poverty through the courts,” she said.

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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 nearly 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