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The Globe and Mail

Mississauga charity loses licence to issue tax receipts

A Mississauga charity that works in the Palestinian territories has lost its licence to issue tax receipts.

The federal government's decision to pull the status of the International Relief Fund for the Afflicted and Needy Canada (IRFAN-Canada) occurs after years of tax audits and legal battles - and after prominent Canadian conservatives, including Stockwell Day, began publicly alleging that the charity is tied to Hamas terrorists.

Records show the charity spent nearly $10-million in 2009, the year that a United Nations agency credited it for helping to build a school for Palestinian girls.

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The federal government's tax authority, the Canada Revenue Agency, announced it had delisted the charity in Friday's Canada Gazette.

The CRA did not specify reasons, and a spokesman would not comment further. "I don't have any information, you'll have to contact us next week," said Philippe Brideau.

The tax authority announced a year ago that it was temporarily suspending IRFAN-Canada's status for bookkeeping offences.

A lawyer for the charity said its staff are "shocked and disappointed" but will persist.

Naseer Syed told The Globe in an e-mail that his client will appeal the decision because it looks after 4,000 "deserving and needy" orphans. "Although no longer a charity, IRFAN-Canada is still registered as a not-for-profit organization and will continue to provide humanitarian relief to those in need to the best of its ability," his e-mail said.

In recent years, charities operating in Palestine have fallen under increased scrutiny as Western governments hardened their stands on Hamas. The militant Islamist group incurs Israel's wrath for targeting civilians with rockets and suicide bombers, but it is also the de facto government of the Gaza Strip.

In 2004, Mr. Day, then an Opposition MP, pushed the Liberal government of the day to crack down on Hamas, describing IRFAN-Canada in Parliament as a front. Mr. Day is retiring as Treasury Board Minister after the May 2 election.

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"Four years ago, the Privy Council warned the government about organizations that were raising funds in Canada for Palestinian terrorist groups," he told the House of Commons. "One of those organizations was the Jerusalem Fund, now called IRFAN, and that group still raises money for Palestinian terror groups today."

The now-defunct Jerusalem Fund for Human Services of Mississauga had fallen under scrutiny for ties to Hamas figures. Critics have said IRFAN was the same group in a new form.

IRFAN-Canada has denied that is linked to the Jerusalem Fund or to Hamas.

In 2005, IRFAN sued Mr. Day, who made his criticisms of the charity inside and outside of Parliament. The charity also sued conservative commentators affiliated with a group known as the Canadian Coalition for Democracy.

The matter was eventually settled out of court.

Other charities have also landed in trouble for their work in the Palestinian territories.

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In 2008, a U.S. court convicted a charity known as the Holy Land Foundation for financing terrorism. Prosecutors had argued that the charity had given money to social welfare programs controlled by Hamas that were geared toward supporting the families of militants.

Hamas was designated as a terrorist organization by the United States in 1995 and by Canada in 2001.

On Friday, the BBC reported that Hamas had negotiated a deal to stop firing on Israeli targets after Israeli air strikes killed five people. Violence has been bubbling up in Gaza to levels not seen in at least two years.

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