By Gillian McEachern, Environmental Defence
Today, CBC’s Power and Politics released a list of environmental charities being audited by the Canada Revenue Agency. We were on it, along with several other prominent Canadian environmental groups. We keep good company it seems.
What goes on between the tax agency and any individual or organization is supposed to be confidential, so it’s rather surprising that a list was provided to the media.
It’s true that Environmental Defence is undergoing an audit. Audits of charitable organizations, like audits of individual Canadians, are routine. What’s different in this case is the amount of rhetoric, attention and money that the federal government has put into auditing environmental charities over the last two years.
Next week, we’ll be watching the budget to see if the situation is about to get a whole lot worse. Finance Minister Flaherty fired a warning shot in December, when he said, “If I were an environmental charity using charitable money, tax-receipted money for political purposes I would be cautious.” He hinted that legislative changes could be forthcoming.
What’s at stake here?
For decades, environmental charities have given voice to concerns of Canadians who want a clean and safe environment. Reversing the depletion of the ozone layer, curbing the acid rain crisis, shutting down harmful coal plants in Ontario, protecting national gems like the Great Bear Rainforest and Nahanni River, and removing BPA from baby bottles – all these and more were a result of the efforts of environmental charities and the thousands of Canadians that support them.
Importantly, these environmental successes were made by all stripes of government. The history of Canadian environmental policy isn’t red, blue or orange.
The work of environmental groups benefits Canadians’ health and quality of life by helping to protect our drinking water, improve air quality, protect our forests, and ensure our lakes are clean enough to swim in and fish from. These are values that matter to Canadians and they are at risk as the government escalates its attacks on environmental charities.
Today in Canada, we have major challenges – like climate change, the loss of pollinators and the increasing presence of chemicals linked to cancer that are found in products we use every day – that need workable solutions. Environmental charities will continue to educate Canadians about what’s needed to secure a healthy, safe environment, and will work with industry leaders and governments to forge solutions that benefit us all.
These attempts to distract, and possibly silence, environmental charities are all the more worrisome when the broader context is considered. Scientists have been fired or muzzled. The data to inform decision making is no longer collected. This is all out of step with the type of open, democratic (and polite) debate Canadians value.
Enough is enough. Let us get back to the work of defending the environment, not ourselves.