Topics: What's New from the Charities Directorate of CRA, Canadian Charity Law, Canadian Charity Statistics, CharityData.ca, Transparency
There are over 2.5m pages on the Government of Canada's website and only a few thousand deal with registered charities. Here are some tips on finding information on registered charities. However, keep in mind that information and legal advice are two very different matters - if the issue is important and involves potentially large consequences consider obtaining professional legal advice from a lawyer who is very knowledgeable about non-profits and charities and consequently probably spends most of their time practicing in the narrow confines of charity and non-profit law.
To find information on the Canada.ca website on registered charities:
1) You can visit the Charities and Giving page at https://www.canada.ca/en/services/taxes/charities.html It has a hierarchical structure and provides reasonably accessible information. You can look at some of the most useful pages including A to Z index of topics for charities, List of charities and other qualified donees, Applying for registered charity status, and Operating a registered charity.
Unfortunately, most of the detailed guidance is written at a PhD level so don't feel bad if it appears confusing and does not make sense immediately. Of course, if you have a PhD and you don't understand it you might have wasted many years of your life studying! Unfortunately, in the past, CRA has written documents more for the audience of tax litigators and tax judges. I am glad that CRA is moving to a more plain language approach that will be very beneficial for non-profits and charities.
2) Unfortunately, you cannot just search the Charities and Giving part of the CRA website using their search function. You can search the whole government of Canada website (many millions of pages) or you can do advanced searches on the Canada.ca website at https://www.canada.ca/en/sr/sra.html?st=a&_charset_=UTF-8&num=10&st1rt=1&as_q=&hq=&cdn=canada
A workaround to search on the Charities and Giving part of the CRA website is to paste into Google (for example when you are looking for "activities outside of canada") the code site:https://www.canada.ca/en/revenue-agency/services/charities-giving/ "activities outside of canada" You get 3 results but if you searched on the whole Canada.ca website you would get 451 results.
3) It is ironic but often the best place to find information from the CRA or comprehensible information on CRA's views is on our website www.globalphilanthropy.ca and unfortunately not on the CRA's own website. There are really three reasons.
First, for over 10 years we have tried hard to make the information plain language and accessible and as noted above CRA is only recently moving in that direction.
Secondly, the CRA is actually very restricted as to what information they can post on their website. For example, everything has to be in English and French or it will not appear on their website. So if CRA writes hundreds of pages of letters in English to an organization allegedly involved with supporting terrorism those very helpful pages on many issues including financial controls and foreign activities are not on the CRA site because CRA is not going to spend many tens of thousands of dollars translating them. We often receive these documents by requesting them or through ATIP and then they are placed on our site so that these important public documents actually have a small chance of being "public". So we have many thousands of pages of CRA information on our website that CRA does not have on their own website. I have heard from charity regulators around the world that they have used the CRA material on our site, unfortunately only found on our site, in understanding how to deal with and anticipate different issues. As well many people have told me that they have found that material helpful for their non-profit or charity in understanding how CRA may perceive a particular situation and options for dealing with it.
Third, and this is sad to say as a believer in the "rule of law", and the public's right to know what the rule of law is, but CRA on certain guidances sometimes obtains ministerial approval for publication. I wish every minister thought that charities should easily have access to information on compliance obligations but this is where politics comes in. For example, why has the CRA guidance on religion been held up by the Conservative Government and now the Liberal Government for over a decade? See my blog post on that unusual story and the CCCC blog post on that guidance.
4) You can search through over 2,500 blog posts of our site www.globalphilanthropy.ca using Google or some other search engines with the following (if you are searching for the word "revocation")
site:http://www.globalphilanthropy.ca "revocation" yes try clicking it and it should set up the search in your browser
Do you require legal advice with respect to Canadian or Ontario non-profits or charities?
Mark Blumberg is a partner at the law firm of Blumberg Segal LLP in Toronto and works almost exclusively in the areas of non-profit and charity law.