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Transparency and elimination of bias at CRA essential for charitable sector

Last month, a report was published that delved into the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) audit experience of Muslim charities in Canada. The conclusions are troubling at best, and frightful at their worst. Operating from a place of fear is not what any charity in Canada should face as they focus on meeting their missions to support and strengthen their communities. The severe damage these revocations have on Muslim communities, and the chilling effect on Muslim Canadian organizations more broadly, should be a critical concern to all of us who volunteer, work and support charities and the nonprofit sector in Canada.

These reports come to our attention at a time when an Islamophobic attack on the Afzaal and Salman family in London, Ontario highlighted the discrimination and hate experienced by Muslim Canadians. Many nonprofit organizations condemned this attack, including ONN. Beyond condemnation, however, we must look for and eliminate systemic bias and racism within our institutions and organizations and use our own missions to advance a culture of inclusion and respect.

As ONN renewed its 2021 policy priorities, we made a stronger commitment to racial justice and respect for Indigenous rights; and we have built these commitments into our policy files wherever possible. We have committed to amplifying the voices of Black and other racialized leaders in our sector. Now, more than ever, our sector must stand in solidarity with partners working in support of Indigenous rights and racial justice.  

One way this commitment intersects with our policy priorities is recognizing how important good data is to allow the public to determine whether official policies of equal treatment between different types of nonprofits and the communities they serve are being carried out in practice.

Therefore, we call on the federal government to clarify and improve their auditing tools and processes to ensure they are fair, transparent, evidence-based, and free of biases. In particular, the collection of disaggregated data is necessary to ensure the Income Tax Act is being administered and enforced fairly and in a non-discriminatory way. Training for government officials is needed to ensure that CRA bases its decisions exclusively on reliable evidence. 

The detailed recommendations outlined in the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group’s “Prejudiced Audits” and the National Council of Canadian Muslims’ “Under Layered Suspicion” regarding the treatment of Muslim charities demand a detailed review. Our sector as a whole looks forward to engaging with the Taxpayers’ Ombudsperson and hearing their conclusions.

We also know charities and nonprofits in Canada look forward to a renewed relationship with the federal government – as policy makers, funders and regulators. We desire a relationship based on reciprocity, transparency and commitment to the communities that we jointly serve. A federal home in government – which ONN supports – would go a long way in re-envisioning and rebuilding this relationship.

In the meantime, it is imperative that we, as individuals, organizations and the nonprofit sector as a whole, continue our journey to ground equity and the elimination of racism in all that we do. 

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Cathy Taylor

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