We are often contacted by charities seeking to insulate themselves from potential legal action by disgruntled former members of their organization. This typically results from situations where the individual has been kicked out of the organization for specific misconduct. Although, for the most part, these disputes result in acrimonious name calling from time to time, these matters are litigated. A recent decision of the Alberta Court of Appeal is one circumstance where an irate former member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses took the matter to Court.
The Ontario Ministry of Finance is proposing a new regulation under the Employer Health Tax Act, to include special Employer Health Tax rules for registered charities. The new regulation could be effective as early as January 1, 2017.
Canadian charity law, being largely based on that of the United Kingdom, traces its roots directly back to the preamble of the English Charitable Uses Act of 1601, known as the “Statute of Elizabeth I”. Although the Statute itself was repealed in the 19th century, the preamble was legally preserved and still forms the basis of the line of case law running right to the modern day that defines what is legally charitable.
Our incorporated charity and non-profit clients often wonder why they need members. Organizations with few governance participants, either because they are small or because they are controlled by a small group, sometimes wonder if they may operate with only a board. Our US clients looking to set up a Canadian affiliate or interact with existing Canadian charities are often accustomed to non-profit corporate statutes that allow a corporation to have only a self -perpetuating board without any members.
Next to the ability to issue charitable donation tax receipts a break in property taxes is likely the next most popular reason for seeking registered status. Of course, the considerations on this issue vary from province to province as the exemption from property tax is a matter of provincial jurisdiction. But the commonalities both of charity operations and of the various property tax regimes make decisions relating to the property tax of a charity in one province germane to those operating in another.
It is one of the more interesting aspects of practising law that allows lawyers to consider the situation when two laws designed for different purposes intersect. Sometimes these differences can cause difficulties, but when used creatively they can be the key to solving difficult problems. One such intersection involves a gift given with a condition subsequent and the revocation tax.
When a charity becomes aware that it has been non-compliant with either the Income Tax Act or the common law, it can cause great anxiety within the organization. According to the CRA, however, most non-compliance issues are “unintentional, accidental, and often of low material consequence,” and they encourage charities to disclose any non-compliance issue to the Charities Directorate. Non-compliance issues that charities might experience include:
The charities community is well aware that the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) works to shut down charities it feels are deserving of such a punishment. In some circumstances, notably, but not exclusively, with respect to charities involved in tax shelters, the CRA works to finalize the charity’s revocation within thirty days of its Notice of Intention to do so.
Several years after hearings into charitable donation incentives were first proposed by Member of Parliament Peter Braid, we finally have the report of the Parliamentary Finance Committee. Unfortunately, it seems that the after years of anticipation the final report is neutered of any real effect because it lacks analysis. Fundamentally, the report is a review of the submissions made by the various witnesses followed by a qualified set of recommendations and even at that is a light read.
Charities know they’ve got strict rules to follow, and they know there are stiff penalties for non-compliance. They should also know that the Charities Directorate and the Canada Revenue Agency will work with organizations to help them maintain their charitable status, if necessary through a compliance agreement which both the CRA and the charity accept.
Charity and non-profit lawyer Mark Blumberg offers a compliance checklist for Canadian charities via the GlobalPhilanthropy.ca charity assistance project.