OTTAWA — Several members of the non-profit sector, including the United Way and Imagine Canada, are calling on the federal government to take immediate steps to shield Muslim-led charities from potentially discriminatory federal audits.
More than a dozen organizations issued a statement urging Ottawa to act following the release this week of the taxpayers' ombudsperson's report on the fairness of the audit process for registered charities.
In his report, François Boileau recommended improved unconscious bias training for employees of the Canada Revenue Agency's charities directorate.
However, Boileau said that due to obstacles in accessing relevant information, he could not examine the issues "deeply enough'' to assess the existence of bias in how the revenue agency applies its processes.
Revenue Minister Diane Lebouthillier had asked the watchdog to conduct a systemic review of the concerns of Muslim-led charities, paying particular attention to concerns about the selection of files for audit purposes by the Review and Analysis Division of the revenue agency's charities directorate.
A 2021 report by the Ottawa-based International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group said the division works with national security agencies to carry out these audits, with little accountability or independent review.
The National Security and Intelligence Review Agency, which has access to sensitive and classified information, recently informed the revenue agency it would examine the Review and Analysis Division.
In their statement Thursday, members of the wider non-profit sector suggested handing over time-sensitive responsibilities of the division to another team within government on an interim basis.
They recommended creating strong oversight and accountability measures for the division's activities in the long term.
The statement added that the intelligence review agency should have access to "all required information, personnel and documents" to carry out its study.
In its own statement, the Canadian Muslim Public Affairs Council urged the federal government to suspend the Review and Analysis Division and place a moratorium on audits of all Muslim-led charities.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 30, 2023.
The Canadian Press