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Canada Broadbent Institute raises new questions about CRA’s auditing of charities

The Canada Revenue Agency headquarters in Ottawa is seen in this file photo.

Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The Broadbent Institute, a left-leaning think-tank, has levelled another broadside at the Harper government over the Canada Revenue Agency's auditing of charities.

The organization says the country's most active right-leaning charities continue to report zero "political" activity in their latest filings and that raises fresh questions about how conservative-oriented charities are interpreting the revenue agency's rules.

"This report makes clear that the CRA rules around political activity are interpreted, to put it charitably, quite differently by many right-leaning charities," the report said.

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Rick Smith, Executive Director of the Broadbent Institute, says nine-out-of-10 right-leaning charities, including the Fraser Institute, the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies and Focus on the Family, reported conducting no political activity last year.

But he claims each of them did carry out activities in 2014 that appear to meet CRA's definition of "political."

Smith points to a Focus on the Family study that supports income splitting, a pillar of the Conservative government's re-election strategy and the Canadian Constitution Foundation's support of two-tiered health care.

Smith says his group is renewing its call for an independent inquiry to examine the revenue agency's processes in order to make sure they are not subject to political pressures or interference.

Last year, the institute released a similar survey looking at tax data from same 10 right-leaning charities between 2011 to 2013 and cross-referenced that with publicly information on their activities during those years.

"Back in 2012, we know the Harper government allocated money to ramp up political activity audits of environmental charities," Smith said in a statement.

"The auditing scope was then extended to include anti-poverty, foreign aid and human rights groups. So what exactly is the CRA doing about right-leaning charities consistently reporting zero political work? Has it triggered audits just like the blanket audits of charities the government is less fond of?"

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Under the law, a charity is permitted to spend no more than 10 per cent of its resources on "political" activities and direct partisan activity is prohibited.

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