City seizes donation bins belonging to unregistered charity

Two donation boxes in Orléans have been seized by the City of Ottawa, more than three years after the organization they belong to had its charitable status revoked.

Humago Foundation had its charitable status revoked in 2019

Garbage bags sit in the snow beside a donation bin
An overflowing donation bin that states it belongs to the Humago Foundation sits on municipal land in Orléans before it was removed on Jan. 23, 2023. (Rebecca Kwan/Radio-Canada)

Two donation bins in Orléans have been seized by the City of Ottawa, more than three years after the organization they belong to had its charitable status revoked.

The boxes at 2002 St. Joseph Blvd. belong to the Humago Foundation and contained a notice indicating that any donations left there would be picked up weekly by the group.

The problem is the boxes weren't registered with city, despite being on city property — and the charity itself isn't registered with the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA).

"Any solicitation or asking for funds, without being registered, when it comes to charities, is considered fraud in Canada," said Jeff Horncastle, acting client and communications outreach officer with the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC).

"The charity must be registered with the CRA."

The Humago Foundation did not respond to multiple interview requests from Radio-Canada. But before the bins were seized, the foundation's president, Marie-Claude Guérin, wrote in an email that any donations are given to various schools.

The city's bylaw department said it seized the bins on Jan. 23 after its officers couldn't reach the foundation. It's unclear how long they'd been there.

"If the owners want their donation boxes back, they will be fined $615 for obstructing a public road," wrote Roger Chapman, director of bylaw and regulatory services, in a French-language statement.

No charitable status since 2019

The city doesn't know if there are other Humago Foundation donation bins in Ottawa because the foundation hasn't been given any permits, Chapman said. Those are only issued to not-for-profit organizations that provide proof of their charitable status.

According to the CRA, the Humago Foundation hasn't been a registered charity since Nov. 29, 2019, after it failed to file the right form within six months of the end of its 2017 fiscal year.

"If a charity loses its status for any reason, such as revocation or cancellation of its registration, it may continue to operate and conduct its programs, but it will no longer be able to identify itself as a registered charity," said CRA spokesperson Nina Ioussoupova in a French-language interview.

A charitable registration number was clearly visible on the bins before they were seized by the city. Guérin has said the organization only had a few bins in operation.

A business registry listed the Humago Foundation's home base in Montérégie, Que., along with various aliases, including the Super Recyclers and Binefit Canada Foundation. The latter is the one which had its charitable status revoked, but neither name is registered with the CRA.

Both a school in Ottawa and another in Montreal confirmed to Radio-Canada that they work with Super Recyclers.

A white bin with slots sits in the snow.
A charitable registration number is visible on a donation bin belonging to the Humago Foundation, despite the foundation having its charitable status revoked in 2019. (Rebecca Kwan/Radio-Canada)

'We don't know where the money is going'

Horncastle said charity fraud is fairly common yet underreported, making it difficult to get an accurate picture of the scope of the problem.

Only five per cent of victims ever report to the CAFC, he said.

Horncastle encouraged people to do due diligence to ensure a charity is registered before making a donation and to report any suspicions of fraud to the CAFC or CRA.

He also confirmed the anti-fraud centre hasn't received any reports regarding the Humago Foundation.

However, another charity which relies on donations condemned the foundation's actions.

"If they don't have their status up to date, usually it's because something bad has been happening," said Pierre Deschamps, president of Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Outaouais.

"So, it should be a wake-up call for us to pay attention and not necessarily give to that organization because we don't know where the money is going."

The removal of the bins comes as Ottawa's clothing donation box policy is under review. According to the city, the current bylaw does not govern where donations should be sent.

Ottawa could look across the river for some tips: a few years ago, the City of Gatineau adopted a regulation stipulating only organizations based there could operate bins within city limits.

With files from Radio-Canada's Rebecca Kwan