OTTAWA — A national civil liberties coalition says a secretive division of the Canada Revenue Agency is unfairly targeting Muslim charities for audits based on flimsy reasoning, amounting to discrimination.
A newly released report by the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group says the Review and Analysis Division of the revenue agency's charities directorate works with national security agencies to carry out the audits, with little accountability or independent review.
The report says that from 2008 to 2015, 75 per cent of the organizations whose charitable status was revoked following division audits were Muslim charities, and that at least another four have had their status pulled since then.
It says that despite these revocations, not a single Muslim charitable organization, or individual associated with one, has been charged with a terrorist financing crime.
The Ottawa-based civil liberties monitoring group is a coalition of dozens of Canadian civil society organizations established to protect and promote human rights and civil liberties in the context of national security and anti-terrorism laws.
In a response to questions about the report, the Canada Revenue Agency said it does not select registered charities for audit based on any particular faith or denomination, adding it is firmly dedicated to diversity, inclusion and anti-racism.
If non-compliance is identified as a result of an audit, the agency generally provides a charity with an opportunity to correct the issues, it said.
"Only a very small proportion of charity audits conducted by the CRA result in serious consequences such as sanctions or revocation."
The report notes that over the last two decades, the revenue agency has audited between 600 and 800 charities per year, the vast majority selected at random.
The report distinguishes between these audits and those specifically selected by Review and Analysis Division due to terrorist financing concerns.
According to statements by agency officials, from 2008 to 2015 RAD completed audits of 16 charities, eight of which had their charitable status revoked, the report says.
Of those eight, six were Muslim charities, accounting for 75 per cent of RAD revocations during this period, it adds. Two additional Muslim charities had their status revoked during the time period, but it is not known if they were audited by the division.
The civil liberties group says the process of an audit, and possible revocation, has also created a chilling effect that is undermining and harming the Muslim charitable sector in Canada.
The creation of the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians in 2018 and the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency the following year has presented new opportunities for independent review of the process, but this has yet to occur, the report says.
It calls on the Trudeau government to refer the issue to the review agency, known as NSIRA, for an examination of the Review and Analysis Division's processes to ensure organizations are not being targeted due to racial or religious prejudice.
The group also wants Revenue Minister Diane Lebouthillier to declare an immediate moratorium on the targeted audit of Muslim charities until the review is complete. This would still allow the agency to audit Muslim charities selected at random.
Jeremy Bellefeuille, a spokesman for the minister, appeared to rule out the idea Wednesday.
"The CRA is at arm’s length from the Office of the Minister of National Revenue," he said. "As such, the minister does not instruct the CRA to begin audits, nor does the minister intervene in audits underway.”
In addition, the report recommends the Finance Department revisit the anti-terrorism regulatory, policy and legislative landscape, particularly a 2015 federal risk assessment and its effect on the Muslim community.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 9, 2021.
Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press