Independent media outlet Rebel News is suing the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) after the agency decided Rebel does not meet the standard of “qualified Canadian journalism organization,” which is necessary to be eligible for federal tax credits and other programs.
Rebel News publisher Ezra Levant told The Epoch Times the fact that the government can decide who qualifies as approved media is “not appropriate for a free country.”
“It’s a dark and un-Canadian innovation to have a board of journalism censors at all; we shouldn’t even be taking them seriously enough to quarrel with their particular excuses for why we don’t ‘qualify,'” Levant said in an email.
“We should object, immediately, to the very concept of a government board of journalism. That is not appropriate for a free country.”
The CRA sent a letter to Levant in February explaining its decision.
It said part of the review involved the government-appointed Independent Advisory Board on Eligibility for Journalism Tax Measures, which found that while Rebel News met some criteria, such as producing “content which is of general interest, including coverage of democratic institutions and processes,” it did not meet certain criteria for “original news content” as defined by the agency.
“The Advisory Board’s assessment is that Rebel News does not produce original news content, on the basis that the content was found to be largely opinion-based and focused on the promotion of one particular perspective,” the letter said.
“Our review of Rebel News’ application reached the same conclusions as that of the Advisory Board,” it added.
The letter then stated there is no formal right to appeal a refusal to be granted the qualified Canadian journalism organization (QCJO) status.
When contacted for comment, the CRA said the “confidentiality provisions of the Income Tax Act prevent the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) from discussing taxpayer information.”
CRA spokesperson Etienne Biram wrote in an email that since beginning to process applications in December 2019, the QCJO designation has been granted to 165 organizations and was denied to 42.
On April 7, Rebel News filed a lawsuit in federal court against the tax agency in an effort to have the QCJO refusal quashed and deemed “unreasonable and unlawful,” and to be given QCJO status pursuant to the Income Tax Act.
The lawsuit says Rebel has been granted media accreditation by a number of government entities and argues that it meets all the criteria established in the QCJO application guidelines.
“Rebel News journalists follow the strictures of responsible and ethical journalism, including researching and verifying information before publication, providing, and inviting opportunities for rebuttal, honestly representing their sources, and correcting any errors that arise,” says the lawsuit.
It also says the outlet is “generally critical of government action or inaction and has a mission statement to ‘tell the other side of the story.’”
“Rebel News is one of the few Canadian media outlets having the power, freedom, and will to meaningfully challenge government figures and policies and the political views presented in Canada’s legacy media,” it says.
The lawsuit notes that the refusal of QCJO designation has “the effect of censoring” a news organization, and Rebel News is seeking to obtain a trove of documents from the CRA pertaining to its decision and related entities and programs.
Rebel News successfully sued the Leaders’ Debate Commission in 2019 when its journalists were denied accreditation to cover the televised debates during the election campaign.
The outlet is currently engaged in other legal action after violent encounters between police and Rebel reporters in recent months.
In December 2021, Rebel journalist David Menzies was waiting to interview Prime Minister Justin Trudeau outside a venue in Toronto which Trudeau was scheduled to attend, when he was forcibly removed by RCMP officers, video footage of the incident shows.
Menzies subsequently filed a lawsuit with the Ontario Superior Court of Justice on Dec. 16 against the RCMP, the Attorney-General of Canada, and the three officers involved.
In February, during the police clearing operation of the Freedom Convoy protest in Ottawa, a police officer fired a tear gas canister point-blank at reporter Alexandra Lavoie, who was on the front lines. Rebel News said it will also file a lawsuit regarding that incident.
In recent years, the federal government has put increased focus on the regulation of online content and issues that relate to journalism. Besides creating a panel on deciding who can cover election debates, it has introduced two bills, C-11 and C-18, to increase regulation of the internet and has commissioned a panel of experts to provide recommendations on a bill to reduce “harmful content” online.
Editor’s note: This article was updated to include CRA’s response.