It turns out charities in Canada — at least the ones the government doesn’t like — are forbidden from “exercising moral pressure.” As if that isn’t the entire point of charitable enterprises. The absence of the profit motive and of self-interest in those involved in such an organization virtually defines a charity. Without those two things, what’s left is the pressure of morality compelling people to do the right thing.
But that’s illegal for a charity, it turns out.
This news comes to us courtesy of the Canada Revenue Agency, acting on a $13-million mandate from Stephen Harper’s Conservative government to take a close look at charities the government thinks are engaged in “excessive political advocacy.” This crackdown on politicized goodwill most recently busted the do-gooders at Dying with Dignity, who have been wielding contraband moral pressure in the service of their mission to provide information about patient rights, planning for end-of-life-care and the case for physician-assisted suicide. The auditors determined that its sins included “swaying public opinion, promoting an attitude of mind, creating a climate of public opinion” in addition to the already mentioned moral pressure tactics.
Now, to be clear, these charitable advocacy activities are only verboten if they might drive or prevent legislative change. The logic seems to be that tax breaks shouldn’t be used for any activities that might influence legislation. Except, of course, the tens of millions of dollars in tax exemptions and direct subsidies we give to political parties whose direct and immediate goal is to drive or prevent legislative change. Harper has actually been an innovator in this arena, in as much as, through “Canada’s Economic Action Plan,” he has abandoned mere tax breaks and the hassles of soliciting donations to spend millions of government dollars directly on advocacy to sway public opinion and drive legislative change.