After a four year struggle to assert its right to operate a charitable wing, Greenpeace Canada has quit in exasperation.
It has given up its fight to prevent Revenue Canada from revoking the charitable status of a foundation it had created (Greenpeace Canada Charitable Foundation). Revenue Canada claims the foundation gave a loan to Greenpeace without observing guidelines.
And it has abandoned efforts to create an alternative charitable organization (Greenpeace Environmental Foundation) that would be restricted to research and education.
Greenpeace has given up, says Clay Ruby, a Toronto lawyer and director of Greenpeace Canada Charitable Foundation, because it would be a misuse of funds contributed by donors to continue the struggle. In particular, he says, it has abandoned efforts to establish the Greenpeace Environmental Foundation because Revenue Canada has such a crazed interpretation of the law that there’s no point in continuing.
The department is fortified in its craziness, he adds, by the tendency of the Federal Court of Appeal to say it is Parliament’s job, not the court’s, to temper laws to make them relevant to modern times — even though, says Ruby, tax laws regarding charities are mired in legal precedents that date back to Shakespeare’s time.
After reading correspondence between Revenue Canada and the Ottawa lawyers for Greenpeace, I think Ruby is too kind. Until she died, my family had a crazed aunt. She was delightful, but unable to form a coherent intent. That doesn’t describe Revenue Canada’s position on Greenpeace Environmental Foundation. Perverse, or even pernicious, might be more apt than crazed.
The clue to Revenue Canada’s state of mind comes at the end of a long letter written a year ago last April by Carl Juneau, assistant director of its charities division. He was setting guidelines for Greenpeace in its efforts to register the new foundation as a charity.
« In conclusion,’’ Juneau says, « I would remark that a denial of registration (as a charity) often results from our evaluation that an applicant is, at heart, a pressure group.’’
How absurd! What would he expect any decent environmental organization to be, if not a pressure group for change? My reading of Juneau’s conclusion is that nothing will satisfy him, no matter what hoops Greenpeace jumps through.
This smacks of a double standard. The C. D. Howe Institute has charitable status, allowing it to issue charitable tax receipts to members who pay to join. Yet it is a powerful pressure group for promoting a neo-conservative agenda.
The latest bit of C. D. Howe promotion is a study commissioned from Queen’s University professor Thomas Courchene, who argues for establishing a customs union with the United States, and the possibility of a common currency.
Greenpeace wanted the new environmental foundation « to educate the public regarding the value of clean air.’’ In his letter, Juneau objects to the word « value,’’ and suggests that « a more balanced view’’ would be « to educate the public on air quality.’’ In other words, Greenpeace education would have to be value-free.
That’s ridiculous, says Ruby, « It means you can’t have an educational program unless it’s ineffective.’’ You could educate the public about cod reproductive cycles, but you couldn’t be critical of practices that led to the collapse of the cod fishery.
What’s more, says Juneau in his letter, you have to be able to produce « tangible outcomes’’ to win approval to be a charity, and disseminating information about environmental pollution « is not undertaking an activity whose tangible outcome can be predicted with any certainty.’’
That’s Elizabethan law talking. Removing debris from a river is a tangible outcome, and can be a charitable undertaking. But you can’t point to a predictable result from writing pamphlets about chemicals in drinking water that can mimic hormones and cause cancer. So producing the pamphlets can’t be a charitable undertaking.
That kind of reasoning simply refuses to recognize today’s world. It’s not being true to the law. It’s being hidebound. And crazed. And pernicious.