On behalf of Canada's Catholic bishops, Bishop Douglas Crosby of Hamilton have raised concerned over the definition of charitable classifications by the CRA. Register file photo

Bishops at odds with CRA over definition of charitable classifications

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  • January 11, 2017

OTTAWA – Citing concerns about potential unfair treatment, Canada’s Catholic bishops have written to Canada’s Revenue Minister to express disagreement with government policies that classify some religious charitable activities as political.

Registered charities are prohibited from participating in partisan political activities but are permitted to engage in a small amount of non-partisan political engagement. But the line between the two can be blurry and the rules regarding what constitutes political activity are often criticized as being unclear.

In a five-page letter to Minister of National Revenue Dian Lebouthillier, the president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops spoke of “profound misunderstandings about religion in present-day Canadian society” which can result in situations that “many religious charities find inadequate and even unfair.”

The letter from Bishop Douglas Crosby of Hamilton said Canada Revenue Agency’s definitions sometimes leave religious organizations feeling “misunderstood, restricted and even unrecognizable.”

“The Catholic bishops of Canada would respectfully disagree with instances in the past when the CRA ruled that activities involving social engagement, ethical education, peace building and social solidarity or the promotion of the common good and respect for human life do not ‘advance religion’ and so do not meet the CRA definition of ‘religious activities’,” wrote Crosby.

The bishop argued that while “advancement of religion” is one criteria for charitable activity, there are many others, including poverty relief, education and “certain other purposes that benefit the community in a way the courts have said is charitable.”

“The Catholic bishops of Canada would respectfully disagree with instances in the past when the CRA ruled that activities involving social engagement, ethical education, peace building and social solidarity or the promotion of the common good and respect for human life do not ‘advance religion’ and so do not meet the CRA definition of ‘religious activities’,” he wrote.

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