The Current

Politics drives 'political-activity audits' of think tanks, critics say

Pressure is growing for the federal government to stop political-activity audits of think-tanks. The Canada Revenue Agency has been investigating The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives since October for potential Prohibited Partisan Political Activities. Critics feel an 'advocacy chill' and partisan political meddling....
Pressure is growing for the federal government to stop political-activity audits of think-tanks. The Canada Revenue Agency has been investigating The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives since October for potential Prohibited Partisan Political Activities. Critics feel an 'advocacy chill' and partisan political meddling.

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Gareth Kirkby, a former journalist found evidence for "advocacy chill" among charities subject to political-activity audits being conducted by the Canada Revenue Agency. (CP/Jonathan Hayward)


Generally, the only people to get upset over an audit are the people who are actually opening up their books. But since 2012, when the federal government started doing so-called political-activity audits on registered charities - a lot of people have found themselves confused and concerned.

A list of Canada Revenue Agency Charity Audits -- CRA/The Canadian Press

The feds say political-activity audits help determine if registered charities spend more than they're allowed to on political activities. But critics say not enough is known about who gets singled out for scrutiny or why -- and some believe politics is driving the decisions.

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, a left-leaning think-tank known for the Alternative Federal Budget it produces each year, has been undergoing a political-activity audit since last October -- but it hasn't been told much about why:

We haven't been given specific reasons why we're being audited. I assume the reason we're being audited is because our work is often critical of this government and this is a government that is not crazy about research that disagrees with its policy direction and so this is a way to make life difficult I suppose, to silence our voice, to try to intimidate or harass.Bruce Campbell, executive director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives initiated an Access to Information request to learn more about the rationale for the audit. That request produced a Canada Revenue Agency-CRA- document mentioning concerns over what it called the group's bias and one-sided research.

Timeline: Canada Revenue Agency's political-activity audits of charities -- The Canadian Press

Dean Beeby is a reporter for The Canadian Press in Ottawa and he's been following the government's political-activity audits from the outset.

The audit of the CCPA doesn't sit well with many Canadian academics. After reading a news item about the audit, Mario Seccareccia, a professor of economics at the University of Ottawa and a colleague wrote an open letter to Revenue Minister Kerry-Lynne Findlay. So far, more than four hundred academics have also signed.


We did request interviews with the Minister of Revenue - Kerry-Lynne Findlay and the PMO. No one was made available.

We also requested an interview with the Canada Revenue Agency and were turned down. We did however receive a statement, that in part, reads:

"CRA audits occur at arm's length from the government and are conducted free of any political interference."

The statement went on say that in 2012, 86,000 registered charities reported $14.24 billion in tax receipts.

"Charities must respect the law and the CRA has a legal responsibility to ensure that charitable dollars, donated by charitable Canadians, are used for charitable purposes."

This segment was produced by The Current's Idella Sturino and Naheed Mustafa.


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