RightOnCanada provides a tool for advocacy

Tue, Mar 20, 2007


March 20

One of the key motivations for setting up www.RightOnCanada.ca. is to provide citizens with an internet-based tool that is able to advocate and lobby strongly and freely on human rights and environmental issues. 

Most major human rights, international development, environmental and public interest organizations in Canada are registered charities under the Income Tax Act. Unfortunately, this Act severely restricts such organizations from doing advocacy or lobbying work to change government policies. They are required by the Act to use substantially all their resources on non-advocacy activities. A registered charity whose annual income is over $100,000, for example, is allowed to use only up to 12% of its resources on advocacy.

The Income Tax Act permits registered charities to provide aid and carry out education activities as ways to address problems of poverty and devastation in the world. Yet it restricts them from challenging the policies that cause the poverty and devastation in the first place.

The restrictions in the Canada Income Tax Act derive from provisions in the charity law of England in the 17th century. Recognizing that these restrictions are profoundly undemocratic, the UK itself and other countries have updated their tax laws to allow charitable organizations more freedom to speak out and lobby government. Minimal changes have been made to the Canadian Income Tax Act.

It is well recognized around the world and explicitly stated in most United Nations documents that strong, vibrant civil society organizations are one of the most effective foundations for a healthy, democratic society. The ability of independent, civil society organizations to advocate for the public good and the wellbeing of the environment is critical. When this freedom is curtailed, governments become less accountable; powerful, corporate interests have greater influence; and bad government policy ensues.

The restrictions in the Canada Tax Act are among the most draconian and act as a gag on civil society organizations. Organizations have been threatened with having their charitable tax status removed, and some have had it taken away, for carrying out advocacy activities. This acts as a chill on all charitable organizations.

Corporations, on the other hand, are free to lobby, spend vast amounts of money on lobbying and are given tax write-offs for these lobbying activities. Under the Income Tax Act, corporations are rewarded for lobbying; civil society organizations are penalized.

This systemic disempowering of civil society voices has made it easier for the government to ignore its human rights and environmental responsabilities. And this is one reason why Canada’s record on human rights and the environment has sunk so low.

RightOnCanada is a project of the Rideau Institute on International Affairs, which deliberately does not have charitable tax status in order to be free to carry out much needed advocacy and lobbying work. Our goal is to provide a strategic tool that will allow citizens to challenge the government and together lobby strongly for policies that put human rights and the environment at the top of Canada’s agenda.

The need to change the Canada Income Tax Act to allow more democratic freedom for registered charities to do advocacy and lobbying could be an issue for RightOnCanada to take up. If you have any comments on this or any other issue, let us know.

We also welcome your ideas and suggestions on how to make this tool be a dynamic catalyst for citizen action.


6 Responses to “RightOnCanada provides a tool for advocacy”

  1. Sheila Smyth Says:

    “policies that cause … poverty and devastation”

    “profoundly undemocratic”

    “governments become less accountable; powerful, corporate interests have greater influence; and bad government policy ensues”

    These could be describing the TILMA (Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement) ‘chill effect.’ This draconian and far-reaching NAFTA-like agreement–which BC and Alberta signed last year and came into effect on April Fool’s day–will let the corporate agenda override laws of provincial and municipal governments protecting the health of people and the environment. Trade tribunals can be held, at their discretion, behind closed doors and may award up to $5 million, to be paid by the taxpayer, for non-compliance.

    Prime Minister Harper is urging this on all the provinces, and will be part of the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP) and ‘deep integration’ with the US.

  2. Alexandra Jones Says:

    Thank you for posting this information about the tax system — I had no idea about this “loophole” allowing preferential treatment for corporate voices to be heard over those of charitable organizations. I think this would be a great cause for Right On Canada to take up as a campaign, as I agree that this is profoundly undemocratic.

    Even as I write this, mind you, I’m thinking that groups like Focus on the Family, who are anti gay-rights and against women’s reproductive rights are ALSO registered charities, and I would prefer that they not get any extra government help in promoting their causes. However, this is really a matter of freedom of speech, and defending free speech means that we must also defend this right for those with whom we disagree.

    One random thought about the preferential treatment given to corporations… I wonder if there would be any advantage for an advocacy group in starting its own corporation? Getting incorporated is apparently pretty easy to do. If corporations wield all this ridiculous power, maybe some of that power could be harnessed in fighting the good fight. (Just an idea.)

  3. Larry Kowalchuk Says:

    Exceptional!!!….hey kathleen:-)……here in Sask we have massive campaign against TILMA……welcome any information on its impact on human rights and advocacy……..your opening article finds support for the concept of free speech and its politcal rights in the Pepsi case from SCC…..” for the purpose of advocating change in one’s economic, social and political life….”…can we not challenge the tax laws under s.15…”equal benefit and protection”…corporations versus charities and organizations representing disadvantaged groups….L

  4. Kathleen Ruff Says:

    Hi Larry, Good for you in Saskatchewan for campaigning against TILMA. It seems to me that both TILMA and the provisions in the Canada Tax Act regarding charities have similar impact and that is to disempower citizens and the public interest.

    Under TILMA a corporation can challenge policies and regulations that have been put in place to protect the public interest or the health of the environment if they believe these policies or regulations interfere with their profits. But the whole point of democracy is to give citizens the right to enact policies to protect the public good. TILMA jeopardizes that right.

    For anyone who wants some info on TILMA, there’s background material at the Council of Canadians website http://www.canadians.org. Look under ‘campaigns’ and then ‘trade’.

    It would be good to challenge censorship of civil society under the tax law as an equality challenge under section 15 of the Charter, if a group had funds to do that. We have certainly seen how the provisions in the tax law are used to silence groups.

  5. Arun Chatterjee Says:


    Why don’t we use rightoncanada as a platform to raise consensus among Canadian population to address advocacy rights loopholes in our constitution ? Emails sent to our MPs and MPPs will make a difference.

    We all need a noble purpose in our lives to keep hope in honesty and justice in any society.

    Arun Chatterjee

  6. Laara Elena Mixon Says:

    Excellent website. A couple requests:

    I would like to see some information on BC’s Gateway Project, which is a environmental disaster plan.

    It would be great to see some information some of the injustices and poor living conditions of First Nations in Canada and promote cleaning up our own backyard, as a role model for change in the world.

Leave a Reply