New Brunswick

'This whole situation is very murky': complaint launched against Anglican Parish of Shediac

The Canada Revenue Agency is being asked to investigate the Anglican Parish of Shediac and its status as a charitable organization because of its involvement in a mega-campsite project.

Role in controversial mega-campground project and status as charitable organization questioned by residents

The Anglican Parish of Shediac declared $5 million in assets in 2015, as well as $350,000 in annual income from the rental of land or real estate. (CBC)

The Canada Revenue Agency is being asked to investigate whether the Anglican Parish of Shediac is complying with the laws of a charitable organization.

A complaint was filed Monday by a group of concerned residents who have taken issue with the church's involvement in a proposed mega-campsite project in Pointe-du-Chêne.

The parish owns the land where the campground big enough for 600 to 700 trailers — the largest in the Maritimes — is set to be built, and it would lease the land to a group of investors that included Health Minister Victor Boudreau before he gave up his stake in the project after months of controversy.

But some Pointe-du-Chêne residents, including Arthur Melanson, grew worried when the church recently became the campsite's proponent.

According to federal tax law, a charity is forbidden from running a business, unless it is directly linked to its mission.

Melanson feels the church has become a little too involved with the day-to-day business of the proposal, and is even wondering if it is one of the project's secret investors.

Arthur Melanson is with a group of the Pointe-du-Chêne residents who filed a complaint against the Anglican Parish of Shediac. (CBC)

"This whole situation is very murky right now," said Melanson. "We could say it's as murky as the little lagoon is at Parlee Beach."

Major real estate owner

Residents have raised questions before about the property lease for a controversial commercial development in an area that is environmentally sensitive, and whether the enterprise fits with the Anglican church's mission of "striving to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustaining and renewing the life of the earth" and "loving thy neighbour."

Nevertheless, Canadian tax law allows a charity to rent out its assets as an investment, as long as its involvement is considered passive.

The Anglican Parish is a major real estate owner in Shediac.

In 2015, the charity registered as the Corporation of the Anglican Parish of Shediac declared roughly $5 million in total assets, as well as $350,000 in annual income from the rental of land or real estate.

It also declared $400,000 in "other revenue," which residents are asking the federal tax agency to investigate.

Residents like Melanson said they are puzzled that the church has applied first-hand for permits and surveys, taking on some of the costs to develop the land in question.

"What's the motive of every player in this, and what's at stake for everybody? And why the involvement, and why keeping those investors confidential," said Melanson.

The church also paid to build a new walking trail edging the campsite.

And though the church administrator has stated the trail is unrelated to the campsite project, opponents disagree, pointing to correspondence from Boudreau, before he put his project in a blind trust, indicating his desire to relocate the walking trail to the edge of the site, which opponents presume is to make room for more trailer sites.

A walking trail edging the campsite was built by the church. (CBC)

The church also settled a dispute out of court with another tenant allowing this development to proceed.

''I worry that the Parish is drifting away from its charitable mission and instead focussing on profits and risking failure,'' said Dr. Scott Mawdsley, another Pointe-du-Chêne cottage owner.

Residents argue that in taking an active role, the church — a registered charity exempt from paying income tax — is carrying on a business, rather than passively deriving investment income.

Once the complaint reaches Canada's Revenue Agency, it is up to officials there to decide whether to investigate. 

If any wrongdoing is found, the church could have its charitable registration revoked.

But residents hope it does not get to that.

''It is my hope that the bishop and Primate will intervene before the CRA decides it ought to,'' said Mawdsley.

About the Author

Gabrielle Fahmy is a reporter based in Moncton. She's been a journalist with the CBC since 2014.