Yesterday morning, the Canadian Revenue Agency launched their political-activities audit of PEN Canada, a small charity dedicated to promoting freedom of speech, and you don’t need to audit the CRA to figure out who’s behind it. In the past, PEN has been vocally critical of Stephen Harper’s government, calling him out for things like muzzling publically-funded scientists and spying on Canadian citizens. You know, just a couple itty bitty dictator-esque things like that.
The investigation of PEN Canada comes during a massive wave of audits that are strangely similar to this one. The current began in 2012 when the Tories assigned $8 million in their budget towards creating a special task force in the CRA to investigate the political-activities of charities, an allocation that just happened to take place right after several Tory cabinet ministers decried all environmental groups opposing the pipeline as money launderers and radicals.
What’s even scarier than a politically-fueled bureaucratic anti-environment smack-down is a mass suppression of every other kind of charity too. Among the list of 52 charities being audited by the CRA are Canada Without Poverty, Amnesty International, the United Church of Canada, and just about every other Canadian charity that involves human rights, the environment, and now, freedom of speech
While it’s possible that the government has polls showing that Canadians rank “charities” as the biggest problem facing Canada today (perhaps right between unemployment and too many polar bears), it’s more likely that there’s something a bit more insidious going on.
Although the CRA denies having any political bias, many of the political-activity audits were triggered by complaints from lobby group Ethical Oil, a group that certainly stands to gain from Harper’s energy policy. All one massive coincidence, surely.
Charities have reported that the massive wave of auditing has created an atmosphere of panic with many afraid to exercise their freedom of speech for fear of stepping on the wrong person’s toes. Even if a charity is cleared of any political misconduct, these audits aren’t cheap. Many of these audited charities are drowning in legal fees as they struggle to fulfill the many strange difficult-to-complete tasks requested by the CRA.
While they are nice in nature (they are charities, after all), even their kindness has limits: PEN Canada has vowed not to back down. Charity president Philip Slayton spoke out about the audit and the atmosphere of fear many charities are succumbing to:
Slayton also says that there is at least one large Toronto law firm willing to deal with the charity’s legal fees free of charge should it be necessary. Ironically, Toronto is one of the only places the Tories will never get elected in!
Nevertheless, striking fear in the hearts of those who aim to do good in the world is a terrible use of public money and resources. The Canadian government needs to drop the sword, stop acting like Stalin-era fear mongers and let the PEN write and speak as they please. The Canadian government should be, well, a bit more charitable.