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.