Does a Charity have Freedom of Expression?

The short answer is no. The “political activities” of Canadian charities and not-for-profit corporations are strictly regulated. The Income Tax Act limits the amount of resources a registered charity can devote to political activities. The Canada Revenue Agency defines political activities very broadly as including any activity that “explicitly communicates to the public that a law, policy or decision of any level of government inside or outside Canada should be retained, opposed or changed.” In Canada, a registered charity can only devote 10% of its resources to political activities and must report those activities to the Canada Revenue Agency. 

Canada Without Poverty, a registered charity devoted to the relief of poverty, has filed an application in the Ontario Superior Court challenging these restrictions. Canada Without Poverty is seeking a declaration that the sections in the Income Tax Act that restrict the political activities of charities violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, including freedom of expression and freedom of association protected under section 2 of the Charter

As this important question makes its way through the Courts, charities and not-for-profit corporations should seek legal advice before engaging in political lobbying and continue to carefully monitor their public statements to avoid losing their charitable status and tax benefits.