Tides Canada is both lauded and audited

Research | May 17, 2012

Every afternoon, I get an email from Google full of headlines and links to charity- and philanthropy-related stories written throughout the day. In one of these emails, two headlines in particular caught my attention; they were stacked one on top of the other and were saying entirely opposite things about the same charity, Tides Canada.

This was one headline: Tides Canada Recognized as Leader in Transparency and Good Governance
And this was the other: CRA Audits Charitable Status of Tides Canada Amid Tory Attack

How is it that a charity can be lauded as a leader amongst its charitable peers while also have its charitable status questioned by Canada Revenue Agency? Why is there such a large discrepancy between how the public and the CRA (the regulator of charities in Canada) perceive Tides?

Is the Tides audit an example of government interference in the charitable sector, or is the government protecting Canadians from “bad charities”? It’s a troubling issue without a clear answer.

The federal government introduced new rules regulating charities in their recent federal budget. These new rules target political activities, seemingly with the intent to restrict environmental charities (mostly from interfering in the various pipeline projects related to Alberta’s oils sands).

Tides Canada has received the most press attention, but the new rules apply to all registered charities, most of which aren’t environmental. How will these rules impact educational, health and religious charities, for example? It remains to be seen.

The new rules are drafted broadly, which suggests they will be open to interpretation and that means a lack of facts and clarity for charities. Murky subjects like this make it more expensive for charities to operate, as they need more advice from lawyers and accountants, but could still find themselves subject to a CRA audit.

The irony of these two headlines proves this is an especially hot topic these days. So it’ll be interesting to watch for the audit results – not only to see what happens to Tides, but to also see just how evenly the CRA applies these new rules to all charities. .


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