OTTAWA, March 27, 2023 – Today’s report from the Office of the Taxpayers’ Ombudsperson into systemic racism and bias in the CRA’s treatment of Canadian charities, and particularly those which are Muslim-led, demonstrates the urgent need for transparency, accountability and action to address this problem, according to the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group (ICLMG), a Canadian coalition focused on the impact of anti-terrorism activities on civil liberties in Canada.
“We are grateful for the Office of the Taxpayers’ Ombudsperson’s diligence in this matter, and their recommendations on the need for mandatory unconscious bias training of staff at the CRA,” said Tim McSorley, national coordinator of the ICLMG. “However, the OTO’s report once again makes it clear that the government should have realized, from the beginning, that the OTO would not have the access necessary to answer the questions put forward by the Minister of National Revenue.”
The result is that, nearly two years after the important issue of systemic bias in the CRA’s counter-terrorism activities were initially raised, Canadians still do not have answers, accountability or significant reforms at the CRA, its Charities Directorate, or the secretive Review and Analysis Division (RAD).
“We once again call on the government to take immediate action and place a moratorium on the operations of the CRA’s Review and Analysis Division until the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency completes its review and reforms to the CRA’s policies and practices are made,” said McSorley.
The ICLMG originally documented these problems in its June, 2021, report, The CRA’s Prejudiced Audits: Counter-Terrorism and the Targeting of Muslim Charities in Canada. The report detailed how a faulty and unsubstantiated national security “risk assessment” approach to the monitoring of terrorism financing in the charitable sector has led to Muslim charities in Canada being unduly targeted for surveillance, audits and revocation of their charitable status. The new report from the OTO is available here.
The ICLMG supports the key recommendation that the OTO was able to make, namely that the CRA should institute mandatory unconscious bias training for all employees involved in the audit process. While this alone will not resolve the important issues that have been raised, it will clearly make an impact in how audits are carried out. The fact that this has not existed until now is troubling.
The OTO’s review also revealed other concerns within the auditing process, including issues with how “leads” regarding complaints about charities are processed, as well as the lack of safeguards to protect against bias in how RAD selects and proceeds with audits of charities.
The report also demonstrates the woeful state of transparency at the CRA, the Charities Directorate and the RAD. This includes public information that is out of date, an inability for the OTO to access information necessary to carry out its mandate, and the complete lack of public information about how RAD operates.
It also includes the degree to which their work remains obscured by national security and other operational considerations, making it impossible to properly evaluate – and address – the problems of systemic bias that have been raised in independent reports.
“The fact that a government ombudsperson, assigned by the Minister of National Revenue to review crucial concerns of bias at the country’s federal tax regulator, cannot access the information needed to respond to 2 out of the 3 questions that the Minister mandated them to answer is itself an indictment of the secrecy and utter lack of accountability that currently surrounds this process,” said McSorley. “The government must take immediate action to address this.”
ICLMG national coordinator
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