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Andy Donato at work in his Toronto Sun office yesterday. (Darren Calabrese)
Andy Donato at work in his Toronto Sun office yesterday. (Darren Calabrese)

Sun cartoonist beats the tax man - again Add to ...

Andy Donato has been skewering politicians, bureaucrats and public figures for nearly 40 years in his editorial cartoons in the Sun newspaper chain. But for the past seven years, Mr. Donato has been waging a personal battle with the government, and federal tax officials in particular.

The dispute centres around 710 cartoons Mr. Donato donated to Touro College in New York and Ontario's Brock University in 1999 and 2001. The contributions were valued at close to $500,000 in total and Mr. Donato claimed a charitable tax credit on his taxes.

In 2002, officials from the Canada Revenue Agency went after him.

First, the CRA disallowed some of the credits, alleging Mr. Donato improperly made some of the donations through his wife. When Mr. Donato resolved that issue through the courts, the CRA took him to task again, alleging he owed capital gains taxes on the gifts. At one point, the CRA was seeking more than $100,000.

Mr. Donato fought back. He filed a tax appeal and took the case to the Tax Court of Canada. In a ruling made public this week, the court dismissed the bulk of the CRA's case.

"It was almost like a persecution," Mr. Donato said yesterday from his home in Toronto. "What bothered me was I was the only cartoonist in the country that they went after. [Several other]cartoonists have been donating to universities for years, and getting tax receipts, and they haven't been touched. I was the only one they went after and that pissed me off. ... They just kept up. They wouldn't let up."

Mr. Donato said he was particularly upset because he had planned to make more donations to universities but stopped because of the dispute. He has been especially proud of the gift to Brock because the university uses his work in several courses, including art classes and political science studies.

"I wanted to keep donating to Brock because they put them to good use," he said, noting that he has donated cartoons to other universities, including Ryerson University, and to the National Archives of Canada.

"Now that this is over, I'm going to look into it again because I really would like to donate to universities rather than the archives. The archives have a huge collection of mine now."

He has also cautioned other cartoonists about his plight. "I gave them a warning about what not to do," he said. This case "has got to haunt every cartoonist."

Mr. Donato has been drawing editorial cartoons for nearly 50 years and has won numerous awards. He started at the Toronto Telegram in 1961 after working as a layout artist at Eaton's department store. When that paper closed in 1971, he helped launch the Toronto Sun. He took a buyout from the Sun in 1997 but continues to draw for the chain, with his trademark bird signature, under a contract that pays him roughly $400 per piece.

He said many editorial cartoonists began donating their work years ago because there is virtually no market for the drawings after they have been published. "You don't sell any," he said. "The odd time, you get a request for one. The first time you draw a politician, they want the cartoon and that's it. They sit around, what are you going to do with them?"

When asked if the CRA might have gone after him because he has been too hard on politicians, Mr. Donato laughed and said: "I don't think I've been that bad."

His contract with the Sun expires next year but he hopes to renew it and keep going. For how long? "As long as I can," he said. "There's so much going on."

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