The now moribund website of the International Relief Fund for the Afflicted and Needy (IRFAN-Canada) claims it is “an international humanitarian… organization; dedicated to overcoming poverty and providing hope for the poor and the destitute worldwide.”
But the reality is quite different, according to the government of Canada. On April 28, the federal Ministry of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness designated IRFAN-Canada a “terrorist entity.” It joins a number of other similarly designated organizations, including Al Qaeda, the Taliban, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah and Hamas.
“It is now a criminal offence to knowingly deal in the property or finances of this entity,” the ministry stated on its website.
The announcement coincided with RCMP raids on IRFAN’s headquarters in Mississauga, Ont., and a residence in Montreal.
“An extensive amount of documentary evidence along with stored media, money and other records were seized,” the RCMP stated.
According to Public Safety Minister Steve Blaney, IRFAN transferred $14.6 million “to various organizations associated with Hamas,” between 2005 and 2009.
“The government of Canada is unwavering in its commitment to protect Canadians from the threat of terrorism. By listing IRFAN-Canada, we are sending the strong message that Canada will not tolerate terrorist activities including the financing of terrorist groups. IRFAN-Canada has knowingly financed Hamas, a listed terrorist entity, for many years. The well-intentioned and charitable Canadians who sought to support humanitarian relief through this organization deserve better,” Blaney said.
The developments caught IRFAN and its lawyer by surprise. The organization had been preparing to go to Federal Court this month to challenge a 2011 ruling by the Canada Revenue Agency that revoked its charitable status.
“We’re very concerned about the timing [of] this listing… which completely undermines any ability for this organization to work as a charity,” IRFAN’s Ottawa-based lawyer Yavar Hameed said.
The CRA revoked IRFAN’s ability to issue tax receipts in 2011, saying, “CRA’s findings indicated that IRFAN-Canada provided resources to operating partners that were run by officials of Hamas, openly supported an provided funding to Hamas, or have been listed by various jurisdictions because of their support for Hamas.”
And last summer, IRFAN-Canada announced it was suspending operations, after CIBC said it would no longer provide it with banking services.
David Koschitzky, chair of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), commended the government for designating IRFAN-Canada a banned terrorist organization.
“All Canadians should be alarmed that millions of dollars were raised in Canada to support a foreign terrorist group with a long record of suicide bombings and other attacks against civilians,” he said.
“This decision has been long in the making, and we note the tireless efforts of former parliamentarian and current CIJA board member, Stockwell Day, who called attention to IRFAN-Canada’s disturbing activities nearly a decade ago.
“This move really should highlight for Canadians that terrorist groups are fund raising in Canada. This does happen and hopefully the listing will send a clear message that Canadians won’t tolerate the abuse of their charity,” said Noah Shack, CIJA’s deputy director of research.
Security expert David Harris said the terrorist designation “suggests yet another situation in which Canada was vulnerable… as a kind of repository for extremist and related activity.”
Harris, director of the International and Terrorist Intelligence Program of INSIGNIS Strategic Research, said Day, a former federal opposition leader, first alerted the Canadian public to the problematic nature of IRFAN in November 2004.
Relying on Israeli intelligence information, he warned the government of then-prime minister Paul Martin that there were “difficulties” associated with IRFAN, Harris said.
“It bears noting that if between 2005 and 2009, $14.6 million was channelled to inappropriate recipients associated with Hamas, that seems to be an indictment of the delay… Given the amount of harm it could cause, it should give us pause,” he said.