Dying with Dignity has lost its charity status, and its main opponent in the public debate over assisted suicide and euthanasia says it’s high time.
Started in 1982 and soon granted the charity status required to bestow tax breaks on donors, Dying with Dignity has been audited by the Canada Revenue Agency as part of a general investigation of advocacy groups and found to be in violation of CRA’s requirements from day one. In effect, CRA stated in a letter Dying with Dignity got this week, the pro-death group has never been a charity.
Commented Hugh Scher of the London, Ontario-based Euthanasia Prevention Coalition: “It’s unfortunate when an advocacy group is effectively breaking the rules in order to promote its private goals on the backs of the taxpayers.” EPC, he noted, has also never been a charity, but it has never claimed to be.
The CRA told Dying with Dignity it had intended only to audit the group for the 2011 and 2012 fiscal years but had discovered the group had been outside the bounds of charity work from its inception, with a “political purpose — to expand choice in dying, including by securing the legal right to die. … It is our view, based on our review of the organization’s objects and activities on file from 1982, the organization was registered in error and ineligible for registration under the (Income Tax) Act at the time of its registration.”
Charities, according to an ever-mounting pile of directives and explanations from the CRA, cannot be political, meaning they cannot support a political party or a specific candidate, which Dying with Dignity did not do, nor can they advocate for or against change in Canada’s laws, policies, or regulations. This was one of its functions from the outset.
The New Democratic Party Finance Critic MP Murray Rankin was quick to argue the move was politically motivated. “We need to remember that if those groups are in sync with the Conservatives –I’m thinking of the Fraser Institute and the like–they seem to be fine,” the Canadian Press reports him as saying. “If they are left-leaning or human rights or environmental or anti-poverty—and now this group Dying with Dignity—whose values aren't aligned with the Conservatives, those are the ones that appear to be most vulnerable.”
But Rebecca Rogers, a spokeswoman for Revenue Minister Kerry-Lynne Findlay, told CTV News, “Audits done by the Canada Revenue Agency are done at arm's length, without any political interference.”
Also, in the earlier years of the previous decade, several pro-life organizers told LifeSiteNews, the whole movement also was subjected to CRA scrutiny. A staffer with one pro-life charity told LifeSiteNews that Revenue Canada has gradually become more demanding of organizations that they live up to their specific objectives, and not fall into direct advocacy. “They wanted a more collaborative approach from us,” she said. Her group responded by designing an educational program that “told all sides of the story. We talked about abortion but we talked about adoption and parenting.”
The CRA does allow charities to spend 10 percent of their resources on political (but non-partisan) activities, but insists that the rest of its efforts be beneficial to the public, such as counseling, material assistance to the needy, or education.
But the education must be fair, the CRA insists. “The degree of bias in an activity will determine if it can still be considered educational,” states one of its instructions to charities. “The materials of some organizations may have such a slant or predetermination that we can no longer reasonably consider them as educational.”
“Also, to be educational in the charitable sense, organizations must not rely on incomplete information or on an appeal to emotions. Even in a classroom setting, promoting a particular point of view may not be educational in the charitable sense. As a result, courses, workshops, and conferences may not be charitable if they ultimately seek to create a climate of opinion or to advocate a particular cause.”
Dying with Dignity does not plan on disputing its loss of charity status. CEO Wanda Morris said, “We won’t be opposing it, simply because it would be lengthy, time consuming, costly and a distraction from our core work.” But now that they are freed from any CRA constraints, the organization will be endorsing political candidates, something that non-charitable pro-life groups such as the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition and Campaign Life Coalition have long done.