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And then things got a little more interesting …

Over the past few months, there’s been an interesting tangle involving the Canada Revenue Agency. The federal government increased money to the CRA for oversight audits of charitable groups, audits to establish whether or not the charities were doing too much political advocacy work. Despite the fact that something like only one charity has ever lost its charitable status in Canada for excessive political work, the federal government decided to increase the amount it would spend on the audits by $8 million.

The Canadian Press news service put together data showing that at least half of the 10 political-activity audits done in the last year focused on environmental groups and, in particular, those that oppose government energy policies.

Others singled out for audits include PEN Canada. At the time PEN Canada’s audit was launched, the free expression group was actually using federal access legislation to look into another audit of a charity.

The National Post reported in early August that the CRA is also looking at other opponents of the federal government, including “anti-poverty,

foreign-aid, human rights, and even animal-welfare groups.”

The CRA says the audits are simply a matter of course and particular types of groups are not being singled out at any political party’s behest. Interesting, though, is the fact that charitable business groups do not seem to be attracting the CRA’s sudden auditing interest.

The charities involved may not have had their charitable status revoked, but preparing for multi-year audits exhausts both time and finances.

The newest piece to this interesting intimidation puzzle is happening in Ottawa, where three NDP members of the House of Commons finance committee forced the committee back into session on Tuesday to consider the question of whether the audits have a political connection.

The finance committee meeting was held in camera. NDP members wanted it opened to the media, but the session was shut down without allowing the media in, which means the MPs can’t even talk about what happened behind the closed doors.

Committee member and Conservative MP Gerald Keddy wouldn’t talk about what was said in the 45-minute-long meeting, but said that he believed the audit process was all aboveboard: “The fact that some entities are being audited shows the system works. … The whole system is set up with checks and balances to make sure the integrity of the system is intact.”

Which is, of course, why the committee was so willing to have its discussion in the open — oh, wait. It wasn’t. And it wasn’t apparently willing to even hold hearings into the audit process. It wasn’t — well, it wasn’t willing to do anything at all.

Case closed.

To quote “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” by Lewis Carroll, “‘Curiouser and curiouser!’ cried Alice (she was so much surprised, that for the moment she quite forgot how to speak good English)…”

Organizations: Canada Revenue Agency, PEN Canada, Canadian Press National Post House of Commons NDP

Geographic location: Canada, Ottawa, Wonderland

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