A person waves a Canadian flag in front of banners in support of truckers during the Freedom Convoy rally in Ottawa in February. CNS photo/Lars Hagberg, Reuters

Charities fear Emergencies Act overreach

  • March 30, 2022

Canadian Constitution Foundation (CCF) executive director Joanna Baron and litigation director Christine Van Geyn have said that charities are experiencing a financial chill after the federal government instituted the Emergencies Act to deal with the Freedom Convoy snarling the streets of Ottawa.

The act’s implementation saw bank accounts of some convoy supporters frozen and that has led some to fear challenging governments on policies, the two said.

“(There is) a widespread fear that donating to causes that advocate for fundamental freedoms and civil liberties, and challenge government overreach, will result in the freezing of bank accounts and seizing of assets,” they wrote.

John Carpay, president of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF), concurred that the federal government’s actions against Freedom Convoy supporters are disquieting.

“There were people who were imprisoned or had their bank accounts frozen. It does send a message to all Canadians that it might not be as safe for them to exercise their charter rights and freedoms. It is very sad,” said Carpay.

The JCCF and the CCF are just two of the organizations mounting legal challenges against the federal government for employing these never-used emergency powers to stifle voices opposed to the government.

While individual Canadians may be experiencing the anxieties and fear alluded to by Baron, Van Geyn and Carpay, Canadian charities — and specifically pro-life groups — may have more to fear.

Nicole Scheidl, executive director for Canadian Physicians for Life (CPL), said the current federal government has a specific approach in handling entities with divergent ideas.

“They consider groups they disagree with as unacceptable, misinformation or fake news,” said Scheidl. “And they do not feel compelled to bring the issue out into the public square. … They don’t even want to dialogue and engage in a real way. Theirs is just this kind of authoritarian, ‘I don’t like what you’re saying, so I’m going to squash you.’ ”

There is evidence to suggest Scheidl is correct. In early March, the Canadian Centre for Christian Charities (CCCC), the largest Christian charitable association in the country, penned a letter expressing concerns about a proposed legislative amendment to the Income Tax Act. Trudeau’s Dec. 16 mandate letters for Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland and Minister for Women and Gender Equality and Youth Marci Ien directed them to “make anti-abortion organizations that provide dishonest counselling to pregnant women about their rights and options ineligible for charitable status.”

The seven signatories of the CCCC’s March 7 correspondence included Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops president Bishop Raymond Poisson. The letter stated the CCCC found Trudeau’s letters “troubling because of their vague assertions and unproven assumptions of dishonesty toward a specific subset of charities.”

Poisson and his colleagues “believe it is vital for the government to clearly define the terms, scope and potential applications of this initiative, and to consider the long-term impact on the entire charitable sector before taking any type of punitive action against a targeted group of registered charities through legislative change.”

The financial seizure powers contained in the Emergencies Act and the proposed changes to the Income Tax Act are the latest salvos in a long-term financial showdown between the federal government and pro-life organizations. It was early in this government’s mandate that it targeted pro-life organizations through the Canada Summer Jobs program. To access the government funding for student summer jobs, organizations had to commit to a woman’s “right” to abortion, though no such right exists in Canadian law. It saw hundreds of charitable organizations that refused to agree to the government’s attestation barred from receiving funding.

Toronto Right to Life (TRTL) in 2018 refused to comply with and launched a court challenge against the government. In 2019, despite this controversial attestation being removed, it again was denied funding.

On Oct. 22, 2021, a federal judge ruled that it was “reasonable” for the federal government to expect CSJ funding recipients to support abortion rights. Blaise Alleyne, TRTL’s vice-president, told The Catholic Register an appeal was filed in late November.

Alleyne said the level of discrimination against pro-lifers is intensifying each year, but that has been met with a continued resolve to practise and defend Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

“Our view is that we need to defend our own rights in order to continue being a voice for pre-born children. The discrimination we experience from our government is nothing compared to the violence of abortion,” he said. “We need to be focused and motivated to remain strong through whatever challenges we face.” 

“The more positive things you are doing to create a positive impact on someone’s life in a positive way kind of defangs the arguments the government can use against you,” said Scheidl. “You’re less open to criticism if you are doing your job really well.”

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