Budget 2016: Charities, consultations and clarifications

The Trudeau Liberals first budget was released yesterday.

While most coverage was over the size of the deficits and who gets what money, my attention was on a single bullet on page 206.

  • Pertaining to rules governing charities and their political activities, the CRA, in consultation with the Department of Finance, will engage with charities through discussions with stakeholder groups and an online consultation to clarify the rules governing the political activities of charities.

The Liberals had promised changes coming for Canada’s charities. But this disappointed me.

From the Liberal Party’s platform:

We will allow charities to do their work on behalf of Canadians free from political harassment, and will modernize the rules governing the charitable and not-for-profit sectors. This will include clarifying the rules governing “political activity,” with an understanding that charities make an important contribution to public debate and public policy. A new legislative framework to strengthen the sector will emerge from this process.

I work for two charities, completed a non-profit management course and worked and volunteered in the charitable sector in the UK for two years. My concern with this budget proposal is that instead of achieving even this modest goal of “modernize the rules” and “a new legislative framework,” we’re being given committees and consultations with the goal to “clarify the rules.”

Let’s be clear. Canada Revenue Agency makes it quite clear what counts as political and partisan material on its own website and in its briefings. And it’s pretty restrictive. Take this advisory that was released during the 2015 election. One part states:

When a charity invites comments on its website, blogs, or on social media, it should monitor them for partisan political statements and remove, edit, or moderate such statements within a reasonable time.

The rule is pretty clear to me: Since I work for a charity, it’s now my job to police the content of people’s comments on Facebook. Even though the organization I work for is a staunch defender of free speech and open debate.

Instead of this not-even-half-measure contained in the budget, my own personal preference would be to see Canada move toward a Charities Act, similar to what was introduced in England & Wales, first in 1993 but updated most recently in 2011. Such an act would modernize the rules for what purposes constitute a charity (Canada’s rules currently date to 19th century case law), create an arms-length body to regulate charities (one free from political interference) and empower charities to lobby for change they feel necessary to achieve their mission. Given the changing landscape, it could go even further and create space for so-called social enterprises.

I’ve written my MP arguing as much and hope you will do the same.

This is an issue that could make a world of difference for the many, many charities in Canada – none of whom have the time or resources to advocate for better charitable law (since they’re spending their time fulfilling their own mission and complying with the law as it stands). Some groups, like the Broadbent Institute, the Voices-Voix Coalition and Protecting Canadian Charities, are starting to speak out on this but they’ll need our encouragement.

Tell Christy Clark: Don’t rush through Societies Act reforms

Please write today to tell the BC government not to press through its reforms to the BC Societies Act. Email fcsp@gov.bc.ca before the end of 15 October 2014.

Clark’s Liberal government is looking to overhaul the law that regulates over 27,000 non-profit societies, including almost every active freethought organisation in the province. Many of the reforms are likely good ideas, like allowing societies to be registered and file documents electronically; however, at least one section would potentially allow members of the public to sue non-profits if they feel they are “carrying on activities that are detrimental to the public interest.”

Given that every non-profit is already required by the same law to operate in the public interest, there seems no reason to open non-profits up to the risk of frivolous lawsuits. Vancouver community advocate Sandy Garossino believes this proposal is designed to allow the province’s oil and mining industries to sue environmental NGOs. By the same logic, religious groups could use this same clause to persecute atheist and pro-choice organisations by claiming they are a threat to “traditional values.”

Most frustratingly, the government’s White Paper has been hiding on their website for months with little notification to the thousands of non-profits that are going to be affected by this. Every organisation in the province should have been told about this consultation and given the chance to respond.

The paper is 166 pages. There is simply not enough time to know what other changes will impact non-profits in the province. A quick glance suggests extra reporting requirements and changes to what needs to be in the by-laws.

The government needs to extend the deadline for responses and seek feedback from those who are set to be affected.

Continue reading Tell Christy Clark: Don’t rush through Societies Act reforms

Woo and health charities

Charities and non-profits operate under tough conditions. There is never enough funding, staff, or expertise to achieve perfection and the demands from clients, donors, and funders often force the charity to be more flexible than it might otherwise.

Because of these limitations, you can wind up with articles like “Energy-based therapies and cancer” from Macmillan Cancer Support, the UK’s leading cancer charity.

Continue reading Woo and health charities

Support our Light the Night Walk

Grant LaFleche, writing for the St. Catherine’s Standard, wrote a column yesterday calling on atheists to be more charitable.

It’s a common trope that atheists and Humanists don’t give as much (or frequently) as the religious. Lacking formal structures and congregations, there’s less of a culture of philanthropy, both in terms of regular tithes or even to secular charities.

However, these trends are changing.

The Foundation Beyond Belief is working with freethought groups across North America to raise money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Light the Night Walk. As of this morning they have raised nearly $305,000 toward their goal of $500,000 – which will be matched by the Stiefel Foundation for a total gift of $1 million to fight blood cancer.

Here in Vancouver, the BC Humanist Association’s team has raised over $3,500 between our 15 team members (comprised of BCHA, Vancouver Skeptics, and UBC Freethinkers members).

Our walk is this Saturday, so if you can spare a few dollars, why not chip into my campaign. Remember that every dollar you donate is being matched and Canadian donations over $25 are eligible for a tax-receipt.

Every gift, big and small, is appreciated and helps highlight the compassion and charity we all have.

Support the World Cerebral Palsy Challenge

One of the projects that I’m working on right now is to raise awareness and recruit teams for the upcoming World Cerebral Palsy Challenge in support of the Cerebral Palsy Association of British Columbia.

The Challenge started two years ago among a network of CP associations in Australia. It was so successful that they’ve now essentially franchised the fundraiser to associations in Canada and across the United States.

The premise is very simple and is explained best by their promotional video:

Basically, just get active and promote a healthy lifestyle while raising awareness and money for children and adults living with cerebral palsy. Participants register as teams of 4 for $25/adult or $10/child and track their daily steps through the interactive website. We send everyone a pedometer and have a conversion chart in case you do other activities (running, weights, bocce ball, etc.). The Challenge runs from World CP Day, September 4th, until October 2nd.

For those teams that register here in BC, I’ve scored a few prizes for you:

  1. Every team that enters by August 5th will be entered to win a pack of four tickets to either the August 13th or August 25th Vancovuer Canadians baseball games.
  2. The top individual fundraiser at the start of the Challenge, Sept. 4th, will receive 2 tickets to any 2012 BC Lions (the 2011 Grey Cup Champions) home game.
  3. The person who takes the most steps during the Challenge will win a BC Lions hat, autographed by running back #33 Andrew Harris.

Cerebral palsy is a physical disability that limits movement. It varies from very minor cases (a slight difficulty walking), to severe cases where even eating and breathing are difficult. My brother’s case falls somewhere in the middle. He is unable to walk, but he can talk and play video games just fine.

CP is caused by damage to the brain that occurs during pregnancy, birth, or in the first three years. It’s not degenerative or contagious, but it is a lifelong condition.

The Cerebral Palsy Association of BC describes itself as follows:

The Cerebral Palsy Association of British Columbia  was started in 1954 by a group of parents who wanted to assist their children living with CP to reach their maximum potential within society. Today we are an independent charitable organization governed by a volunteer Board of Directors. We provide support, education, and information throughour BC. Our Mission is:

  • to raise awareness of Cerebral Palsy in the community;
  • to assit those living with Cerebral Palsy to reach their maximum potential; and
  • to work to see those living with Cerebral Palsy realize their place as equals in a diverse society.

I hope you’ll register a team today or, at very least, sponsor my individual campaign.

Has Martin Singh compromised a Gurdwara’s charitable status? #ndpldr

I posted this morning about Martin Singh’s interesting release about hosting polls for the NDP leadership race.

I noted that it didn’t seem like it violated any of the NDP or Canada Election rules, but one further recollection I realized that the rules being broken weren’t by Martin Singh’s campaign but by the Malton Gurdwara.

Continue reading Has Martin Singh compromised a Gurdwara’s charitable status? #ndpldr

Donate to CFI Canada to establish physical centres across the country

I don’t usually cross-post with Canadian Atheist, but I think this is an important, and ambitious campaign.

I’ve had my differences with CFI Canada in the past, but we are on the same side, and they continue to do the most for freethought in Canada. I therefore urge you to donate to their “Next Big Step” campaign to help raise half a million dollars, enough to lease or buy physical locations for each of their centres in Canada.

So go and donate now, and again, and get your friends to donate to the Next Big Step campaign.

The deadline is September 30th, so there’s not a lot of time to reach this goal.

Time for non-religious enterprises?

I had an idea today. Like most ideas, it’s not original, and builds a lot on work that others have done, but it’s one that hasn’t been applied within the freethought movement yet, to my knowledge (at least in Canada).

The idea is, as I’ve now learned, based off the growing social enterprise movement which seeks to have companies run for financial, social and environmental gain – the triple bottom line. In many cases the corporation is actually a non-profit or charitable organization which runs a business to fund its work and expansion. A highly successful model of this sort of idea is the Salvation Army’s Thrift Stores which finance much of their missionary and religious work.

So the idea that I had today was sparked by a desire within the Vancouver skeptical/freethought community to have a place of our own, that is a venue where we can routinely host out discussions, meetings and set up an office or two.

Currently CFI Vancouver meets sporadically in cheap or free spaces that are provided by campus groups or rented at reduced rates (through its charitable status) and the BC Humanist Association meets weekly at the Oakridge Senior’s Centre through a deal they have there.

CFI is committed to seeing something more permanent in the next few years be established and while the Senior’s Centre is a great venue for the BCHA, there is the justified concern both inside and outside the organization that the word “senior” in the venue’s name is a deterrent.

So the idea I had was that these organizations ought to found a coffee shop/cafe, which during regular hours can be open to the public for coffee, cookies, and what-have you, with an extra influence of humanism and skepticism present (such as a resource library for the curious and some science-inspired artwork or something). Then, during evenings, weekends, or whenever it is needed, the shop can close up, move the tables aside (or not) and serve as a meeting venue for the invested groups.

There’s a few bonuses in this format. First, the coffee shop serves as an advertisement and fundraiser for the associated charities. Second, the venue would accommodate the majority of the events being held (the larger lectures and debates will always require large campus lecture halls), and would have coffee and snacks available, and could even be potentially licensed.

The drawbacks are the large initial investment required (likely a few $100,000 which none of these organizations have), and the requirement that someone will actually have to manage the business end of things.

However, with a strong business plan and the right people, it should be possible to raise the requisite funds via government grants, personal donations, and loans if necessary.

It’s also worth noting that under Vancouver’s basic commercial zoning laws [pdf], most of these types of spaces can be used for the categories of cultural and recreational (including clubs and community centres), institutional (schools), offices, retail and services. So there should be no difficulty with this portion.

Now, who has some entrepreneurial experience and wants to get this started?

Aid pours in

Between the BC Humanist meeting and people who attended my birthday party at a pub in Vancouver, I managed to collect $159 for the Red Cross which I dropped off this morning. Their phones were ringing constantly and I was told they worked all weekend and are open late to accommodate all the generosity that’s pouring in.

To everyone who has donated, thank-you. Countless more will undoubtedly be needed, so please spare what you can.