PEN Canada has become the latest charity subject to a Canada Revenue Agency-led political-activities audit, prompting renewed interest in membership with the free-expression advocacy organization. PEN Canada communications staffer Juanita Bawagan says the organization has seen about 10 new members join since Monday.
The Canadian Press reports that two CRA officials showed up at the organization’s small Toronto office Monday morning seeking a “wide range of documents.” PEN Canada, which received notice of the audit several months ago, is offering its full cooperation.
The basis for the audits is a 2003 policy that states charities are permitted to spend up to 10 per cent of their resources on political activities. According to CP, PEN “officially reported just $237,000 in expenses for 2011–12 in its latest filing with CRA, none of it going to political activities.” PEN Canada’s president, Philip Slayton, told the CP that the rules “are vaguely formatted,” but he believes the organization has conducted itself accordingly.
The CP reports that critics say the audits have a political motivation, targeting charities critical of the government:
The wave of audits was announced by the federal government in the 2012 budget, and some groups have been under threat of losing their charitable status for more than two years. The list of targets includes Amnesty International Canada, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Canada Without Poverty, and the David Suzuki Foundation.
The Canada Revenue Agency says its work is conducted without political direction from government…
An investigation by The Canadian Press has found numerous charities targeted with political-activity audits, from environment to international aid and human-rights groups. Many say they are being slowly drained of cash for legal and other costs, and fear speaking out.
Some have been critical of the Harper government’s policies, especially regarding pipelines and the oil sands, and have been labelled “radical” and “money launderers” by senior Conservative cabinet ministers.
Meanwhile on Twitter, writers are calling out the Harper government for muzzling critics. (The CRA has a budget of $13 million to conduct the special audits.) Last week, the NDP called for an independent probe into the audits.