Canada’s Tax Laws Put Animals LastPosted by Michelle Lee, ALDF Litigation Fellow on March 23, 2011
“Promoting the welfare of animals is only charitable when it results in a benefit to humans. Purposes that benefit animals, but not humans, are not charitable.”
- Canada Revenue Agency, Consultation on proposed guidance for The Promotion of Animal Welfare and Charitable Registration (Feb. 3, 2011) Paragraph 23
The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) recently released its proposed guidelines on charitable registration for animal welfare organizations. These guidelines describe how the CRA will determine whether an application for “registered charity” status will be approved–an important determination for organizations that depend on tax-deductible donations. The guidelines include the note above, indicating that organizations cannot gain charitable status based solely on a purpose to benefit animals.
Such a broad statement directing disregard for animal interests is cause for dismay, and has alarmed many who are concerned about the ability of Canadian organizations to carry out basic animal protection work. As it turns out, CRA guidelines go on to explain that certain types of animal protection work can be considered charitable because of the way they benefit humanity by “the advancement of morals and education” and the promotion of public morality by “checking [humanity's] innate tendency to cruelty.” Thus, the rescue and treatment of injured wildlife, as well as the operation of shelters, spay and neuter programs, and non-profit animal hospitals, remain “charitable” in the eyes of the CRA – but only because such projects make us better people, not because of the benefits they provide to the animals.
Further, the CRA guidelines note that for an animal organization to be charitable, “[t]he public benefit resulting from promoting the welfare of animals must clearly outweigh any harm or potential harm to humans.” Consequently, an organization whose purpose is to abolish vivisection would not have a charitable purpose according to the CRA, even if it abided by the Income Tax Act’s restrictions on political activities, because the supposed harm to humans that would result from the abolishment of that practice would outweigh any benefit in the advancement of morals.
The CRA’s proposed guidelines do not represent new restrictions; rather, they represent old ideas with roots in the English common law. In fact, the CRA’s position on anti-vivisection organizations comes directly from the United Kingdom’s House of Lords. While the same law does not prevail in the United States, animal advocates everywhere will recognize the familiar theme of subordinating even the most fundamental of animal interests–to be free from pain and cruelty–to those of humans.
All non-human animals face an uphill battle towards having their interests recognized by the law. If CRA guidelines are any indication of the state of the law in Canada, then Canadian animals have an especially long way to go. The Supreme Court of Canada has expressed reluctance to change the law of how a “charity” is to be defined in Canada. It therefore falls to the Canadian Parliament to bring Canadian law in line with modern norms by amending the Income Tax Act to recognize that promoting humane treatment of animals is a charitable purpose to be valued for its own sake. Until then, not only will animals’ interests be disregarded in the pursuit of justice; they will not even be proper objects of charity.