Review of how CRA audits Muslim charities ‘flawed’: open letter

0
21

Dozens of Muslim philanthropic teams and a number of other civil liberty organizations are urging Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to make sure that the Taxpayers’ Ombudsman workplace can entry all the data it must conduct a systemic evaluate of how the Canada Revenue Agency treats and audits Muslim-led charities, after a 2021 report accused the CRA of “implicit biases and practices.”

The National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), an advocacy group that has helmed the push for a evaluate of the CRA’s practices, launched an open letter signed by a number of organizations Tuesday, outlining their issues in gentle of what the Taxpayers’ Ombudsman, François Boileau, not too long ago mentioned concerning the evaluate earlier than the Senate Committee on Human Rights.

“Unfortunately, we write to you today to suggest that the above review is inherently flawed,” the letter states.

In a press release issued on Nov. 21, Boileau mentioned the CRA advised his workplace it couldn’t disclose sure elements of a charity’s file due, partially, to issues concerning the launch of info associated to nationwide safety.

Boileau mentioned the CRA’s lack of ability to reveal info has made it “impossible” to finish the systemic evaluate his workplace was tasked with conducting in the summertime of 2021.

The open letter to the prime minister outlines three suggestions: {that a} evaluate physique be established to carry collectively the CRA and the departments of Finance and Public Safety for an examination of systemic Islamophobia and racism, that requisite clearances and legislative frameworks be addressed on the outset so the evaluate might be accomplished in a well timed method, and that the CRA’s Review and Analysis Division (RAD) be suspended till additional discover.

“The frustration for us, is that while this review is being figured out, about access to information, Muslim charities are going to continue to be subjected to this [audit] experience. And that is the bigger problem,” Nadia Hasan, the chief working officer on the NCCM, advised CTVNews.ca in a telephone interview.

Government coverage specialists and Muslim organizations advised CTVNews.ca that the stalling of an important fairness evaluate of a robust authorities monetary company reveals vital transparency limitations in understanding practices of the CRA, that can proceed to affect Muslim folks in Canada. They say the problem is indicative of critical flaws in coverage and prevents the federal government from transferring towards a extra equitable framework for Canadians, particularly because the nation will solely change into extra numerous with elevated immigration.

In a press release to CTVNews.ca, the CRA mentioned it takes issues about systemic racism and discrimination ‘very seriously’ and has been working to help the ombudsperson’s evaluate of its practices.

AUDITS STEM FROM ‘STEREOTYPES’

Two studies had been revealed final yr that alleged the CRA has focused Muslim charities in audits. Tax audits are opinions the CRA conducts to make sure that a charity is complying with the Income Tax Act.

The teachers and coverage specialists who wrote these studies mentioned these audits had been steeped in discriminatory and biased practices which might be embedded inside the establishment.

One of the opinions revealed, performed by the National Council of Canadian Muslims and the University of Toronto, discovered the federal government’s “risk-based assessment” (RBA) model utilized in anti-terrorism financing coverage disproportionately targets racial minority communities and Muslim organizations.

The report discovered that beneath the RBA, 100 per cent of all terrorist financing threat was related to racial minority communities, and 80 per cent of all terrorist financing threat was related to Muslim charities.

The audits of the charities are based mostly on “little more than stereotypes about race, religion and proclivity to violence,” the report states.

 

That report and others referred to as on the federal authorities to research how the CRA conducts audits of Muslim charities and droop RAD. Following the National Summit on Islamophobia in July 2021, the place audio system emphasised issues concerning the CRA’s auditing course of, Minister of National Revenue Diane Lebouthillier tasked the Office of the Taxpayer’s Ombudsperson with conducting the evaluate. The mandate of the Taxpayer’s Ombudsperson is to enhance the CRA’s companies and the workplace works independently from the company.

Several months later, that evaluate of the auditing course of is at present impeded by lacking info, Boileau mentioned in his Nov. 21 assertion.

Boileau mentioned his workplace is attempting to find out how the CRA selects charities for audits, and it is “impossible” to validate that info with what the CRA has at present offered.

Section 241 of the Income Tax Act, which outlines privateness provisions that forestall the federal government from sharing taxpayer info except it meets standards beneath the Act, is known to be of “paramount importance,” he mentioned.

Boileau mentioned his workplace has engaged with the CRA and Department of Justice to discover if there are “viable alternative options” contemplating the restrictions to sharing info applied beneath the Income Tax Act.

But the CRA has indicated that it has its personal insurance policies round not disclosing info relating to the chance evaluation course of for charities, separate from the Act, Boileau wrote. That info round threat evaluation is “crucial” to correctly reply the core questions of his probe, he mentioned.

“Public expectations regarding this review are very high,” he mentioned. “I find it important to be as transparent as possible with the Canadian public.”

‘WHO IS WATCHING THE CRA?’

Anver Emon, the director of the Institute of Islamic Studies on the University of Toronto and one of the co-authors of the educational evaluate of the CRA’s practices, mentioned there’s a “fundamental accountability problem” when a authorities company can’t present info to a government-ordered evaluate.

“This is a governance problem, about how representative is our taxing agency to the democratic public, who are taxpayers. More troublingly, this is not just any review. This is a review on equity grounds,” mentioned Emon in a telephone interview with CTVNews.ca.

“Who is watching the CRA? If it’s always an internally kept shop, there’s no light to shine,” he mentioned.

When the evaluate was referred to as final yr, the NCCM made it clear that it wanted to be achieved with “integrity and rigour,” mentioned Hasan in a telephone interview.

The Ombudsperon’s workplace has made it “pretty clear the barriers we thought might be there are indeed there,” she mentioned. “We do need the government to step in and actually take action, in terms of making this review successful.”

The affect of the present CRA audit course of has been felt by the Muslim group for a few years, in curbing organizations’ skills to offer support and undermining their legitimacy, mentioned Hasan. These charities present support to meals banks, mosques, girls’s shelters and humanitarian associations, she mentioned.

THE POLICIES THAT INFORM THE CRA AUDITS

Emon mentioned tax specialists aren’t anti-discrimination specialists nor have they got an experience in eradicating racism, which is why a evaluate like this one is essential.

The CRA is utilizing insurance policies that had been created throughout a interval of ethical panic post-9/11, and are inherently biased towards Muslims and that must be fastened, he mentioned.

Following 9/11, the Financial Action Task Force, an intergovernmental policy-making world group that units worldwide requirements to fight cash laundering and terrorism financing, launched suggestions round monitoring non-profit organizations for terrorism funding, on account of a “exaggerated and generally debunked” perception that Osama bin Laden was pouring cash into al-Qaeda, in accordance with the University of Toronto and NCCM report.

Canada is a founding member of the Task Force and is eager to observe its suggestions, the report states.

In 2015 the federal authorities accomplished a self-assessment on cash laundering and terrorism financing in Canada, forward of a routine Task Force analysis of its insurance policies. In that evaluation,100 per cent of terrorism threats to Canada had been deemed to be posed by racial minority teams, the UofT report factors out.

That is regardless of issues about home threats from white supremacy teams just like the Proud Boys, which had been added to the federal government record of terrorist entities in 2021.

The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) headquarters Connaught Building is pictured in Ottawa on Monday, Aug. 17, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Another 2021 report by the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group,a coalition of civil society organizations, discovered that between 2008 and 2015, RAD accomplished audits of 16 charities, and eight of these charities had their standing revoked. Of these eight, six had been Muslim charities.

The report states that, within the aftermath of the Sept. 11 assaults, the Canadian authorities created new anti-terrorism insurance policies that gave safety companies “sweeping new powers” which were criticized for undermining human rights, for over twenty years. An instance of that is the modification to the Proceeds of Crime Act to incorporate terrorist financing in December 2001.

The up to date laws allowed the CRA to deregister charity organizations upon presentation of a case to the choose, Emon mentioned.

The CRA has acknowledged it has not used that laws, mentioned Emon. However, he factors to 2016 testimony earlier than the Senate, the place CRA company officers mentioned the CRA adopts a “nuanced approach” and makes clear that a corporation may very well be audited if there’s info from different sources that “suggests” a charity is offering funds to a “foreign organization” that may very well be linked to terrorism.

CRA SAYS IT TAKES AUDIT CONCERNS ‘VERY SERIOUSLY’

At the Senate Human Rights Committee on Monday, CRA officers had been questioned by senators who’re finding out Islamophobia and its position in on-line and offline violence in opposition to girls, gender discrimination and office discrimination.

Geoff Trueman, the assistant commissioner of the CRA, advised the committee that audits centered on terrorist financing characterize a “small portion” of the audit program, amounting to 0.5 per cent of audits.

In response to questions relating to the findings of the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group, Sharmila Khare, the director common of the charities directorate, legislative coverage and regulatory affairs department on the CRA, mentioned the framework the company follows on the subject of audits is one established by the federal government.

Tim McSorley, co-ordinator of the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group and writer of the group’s report, advised CTVNews.ca in a telephone interview that the CRA’s statements on the committee had been “incredibly disappointing and frustrating.”

“There was an overall dismissiveness and refusal to acknowledge there’s a problem with the review and that the review is necessary,” mentioned McSorley.

CTVNews.ca reached out to the CRA and to Lebouthiller’s workplace relating to the audit evaluate course of and issues. The minister’s workplace didn’t reply.

In an emailed assertion, the CRA mentioned it’s conscious of the National Council of Canadian Muslims’ open letter and its suggestions.

“We know that systemic racism and discrimination are real and important concerns in Canada. The CRA takes these concerns very seriously especially when fulfilling our duties and is committed to protecting the charitable sector,” it states.

The CRA mentioned it has supported the evaluate performed by the Office of The Taxpayer’s Ombudsperon by responding to all requests for info, sharing and explaining the Charities Directorate’s insurance policies and procedures that inform threat evaluation and audit choice, and explaining how these insurance policies are applied. The company mentioned it has additionally participated in “numerous interviews.”

Taxpayer info has additionally been offered if it’s publicly out there info, corresponding to copies of letters despatched to charities explaining causes for revoking its standing, the CRA mentioned. Confidential info has additionally been offered if the workplace of the ombudsperson has obtained authorization from the charity to view it, it mentioned.

McSorley mentioned that though the quantity of CRA audits centered on terrorist financing is small in comparison with the general audit program, audits concentrating on Muslim charities have vital fairness issues and have had a detrimental affect on the organizations concerned. No expenses have ever been laid in opposition to the charities, he mentioned.

“The government needs to act, the prime minister needs to act in order to ensure there is an actual full and complete review of this issue,” he mentioned.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here