The federal government has responded to a petition that asked it to probe the charitable status of the Jewish National Fund of Canada (JNF).
On July 17, the minister of national revenue issued a reply to an e-petition tabled in the House of Commons in May by Quebec NDP MP Pierre-Luc Dusseault. The petition asked the minister to look into the activities of the JNF and “determine if those activities are in violation of the Income Tax Act rules and regulations regarding charities.”
It was the first time a Canadian elected official lent support to probing JNF’s tax-exempt status in Canada and marked another development in a long-running battle by those opposed to the group’s charitable status.
The petition, which garnered 3,514 signatures, was devised by Independent Jewish Voices (IJV), which is considered a fringe group in the Jewish community due to its support for the anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign. IJV accused JNF of engaging in “discriminatory practices, as its landholdings are chartered for exclusively Jewish ownership, lease and benefit.”
IJV said evidence “strongly indicates” that JNF Canada violates the Income Tax Act, common law and Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) policy guidelines, through its support for certain projects involving the Israel Defence Forces.
The petition also accused JNF of violating Canadian and international law “by enabling physical changes within occupied territory.”
It called on the government to revoke JNF’s charitable status if the group was found to contravene tax rules.
Dusseault said the petition was “in no way anti-JNF Canada. It is to make sure that the laws are followed regarding charities, and that every charitable organization follows the rules and regulations.”
The petition was endorsed by NDP MP Niki Ashton and by two NDP MPPs in Ontario, Joel Harden of Ottawa and Rima Berns-McGown of Toronto.
National Revenue Minister Diane Lebouthillier issued the following response to the petition:
“The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) extends its thanks to the petitioners for expressing their views with respect to income tax system. With respect to the registration and oversight of charities, the CRA registers Canadian charities, and is responsible for making sure they continue to comply with the requirements of the Income Tax Act and common law.
The confidentiality provisions of the Income Tax Act prevent the CRA from commenting on specific cases.
– National Revenue Minister Diane Lebouthillier
“As an independent regulator, the CRA is committed to protecting and maintaining the integrity of the charitable sector through a balanced approach of education, client service and responsible enforcement. The CRA’s Charities Directorate works and makes decisions regarding a Canadian charity’s status independently from the minister of national revenue.
“Charities play an important role in our society and provide valuable services to Canadians. Although registration as a charity provides many privileges, charities must follow the rules to take advantage of these privileges. The CRA has the responsibility to protect the integrity of Canada’s tax system and the charitable sector by making sure that all registered charities follow these rules.
“The confidentiality provisions of the Income Tax Act prevent the CRA from commenting on specific cases. As a result, CRA officials cannot confirm or deny whether a registered charity is currently under audit, has been selected for audit or has previously been audited. The CRA’s actions can only be made public when an audit results in charitable registration being revoked, annulled or suspended, or when a charity is penalized.
“The CRA takes the abuse of Canada’s tax laws seriously and encourages members of the public or members of a registered charity to contact the CRA’s National Leads Program if they are concerned that a registered charity is not complying with the provisions of the act. This program reviews all leads the CRA receives to determine if there is non-compliance with the legislation it administers.”
Those who are applying any degree of critical thinking see the petition for what it is and are dismissing it as not worthy of engagement.
– Lance Davis
JNF CEO Lance Davis did not respond to requests for comment on the government’s response.
In a statement posted to its website earlier this year, JNF called the petition “as empty and scurrilous as earlier efforts to delegitimize the outstanding work of the JNF, and by extension, the existence of the State of Israel.”
JNF said its outreach suggests “that those who are applying any degree of critical thinking see the petition for what it is and are dismissing it as not worthy of engagement.”