Liberals’ Plan to Revoke Charity Status for Groups Deemed ‘Anti-Abortion’ Draws Ire

It's not the government’s place to target charities over ideology, says constitutional lawyer
By Lee Harding
Lee Harding
Lee Harding
Lee Harding is a journalist and think tank researcher based in Saskatchewan, and a contributor to The Epoch Times.
September 13, 2021 Updated: September 13, 2021

A Liberal proposal to ban charitable status to organizations that the party deems “anti-abortion” has been condemned as an “attack” on constitutional freedoms and a misuse of the Canada Revenue Agency’s powers.

The Liberal Party’s “Forward. For Everyone.” platform says that “a re-elected Liberal government will … [n]o longer provide charity status to anti-abortion organizations (for example, Crisis Pregnancy Centres) that provide dishonest counselling to women about their rights and about the options available to them at all stages of the pregnancy.” The Liberals also promise up to $10 million for an information portal that will include a section that “counters misinformation about abortion.”

Marty Moore, a lawyer for the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF), told The Epoch Times it’s not the government’s place to target charities over ideology.

“It’s hard to think of a more blatant attack—I always say this, but then I’m proven wrong by the next day by what the government announces—on fundamental freedoms of expression and belief, that a government literally said we are going to target what we view as misinformation and we’re going to now politicize the heretofore revered charitable status,” he said.

“Whether it’s Ducks Unlimited or Greenpeace, … the government’s role is not to scrutinize their ideology or their political position, but to make sure that they’re doing public good and not financially embezzling money that is dedicated to these charitable causes.”

Pregnancy Care Canada (PCC), which describes itself as “a best practice, Christian, national association” and has 81 pregnancy centres affiliates, says its “staff and volunteers provide medically accurate information on all three options: abortion, adoption, and parenting,” according to a fact sheet on its website that PCC executive director Laura Lewis shared with The Epoch Times.

What’s at stake is “the risk of imposed politically motivated ‘values tests’ on all who serve in the charitable sector,” the PCC fact sheet says, adding that “one must consider the possibility and probability of other charitable organizations being targeted next.”

It’s a concern Moore shares.

“How far does that go as far as applying to religious organizations, churches, mosques, temples, maybe synagogues, that would be anti-abortion in their religious views?” he asks.

“This idea that government has a right to regulate misinformation is literally an absolute disregard for the Charter, if not an attack directly on the idea and the very concept of freedom of expression,” Moore adds.

“To now take charitable status and weaponize it into an ideological club with which to beat political and ideological opponents is so contrary to the Charter. It’s actually very shocking and concerning to me to see that it’s not been more widely reported on.”

Domain of CRA vs the Courts

The PCC fact sheet also said that its affiliate centres rely on donations and that “a policy to remove our charitable status could seriously harm our capacity to serve and care for our clients.”

“The women, men, and children who receive support at pregnancy care centres are the ones who will ultimately suffer. Annually, thousands of the clients cared for are vulnerable, marginalized, struggling financially, and without adequate supports,” it said.

This is not the first time the Liberals have set requirements that prevented pro-life organizations from accessing financial aid programs. In 2018, the Canada Summer Jobs program required applicants to affirm their support for abortion as a condition of receiving funding. The program was scrapped in 2019 following a court challenge by the JCCF.

Kate Bahen, managing director of Charity Intelligence Canada, an independent organization that assesses the financial transparency and effectiveness of charities, told The Epoch Times that she doubts a broad government policy on charitable status is the proper way to address any purported problems.

“Charities need to meet basic standards of care and not be negligent. Yet failing to meet basic standards of care—or dishonest counselling—is the domain of the courts. Quality of service is not part of Canada Revenue Agency’s oversight,” Bahen said.

“I believe the courts are the best place to examine individual charities and address any improper counselling. It will be on a case-by-case basis that will set precedents and award damages.”

The PCC fact sheet says the centres offer support free of charge and that the information they offer “is externally reviewed by specialized practitioners in Canada, including perinatal nurses, family physicians, obstetricians & gynaecologists, and medical ethicists.”

The PCC reports that in 2020, 31,717 women and men accessed help at their care centres. This included “7,015 clients who received material supplies, such as diapers, formula and clothing.” Also, 1,624 clients were supported through parenting programs and 624 women requested and received support after their abortion.”

Lee Harding
Lee Harding
Lee Harding is a journalist and think tank researcher based in Saskatchewan, and a contributor to The Epoch Times.