On August 21, 2015, the Canada Revenue Agency (“CRA”) published an important notice reminding charities of the rules in the Income Tax Act that prohibit registered charities, and charities’ staff and volunteers in their capacity as representatives of charities, from engaging in partisan political activity.  It is worth noting that the new CRA advisory contains examples of partisan political activity that are not found in CRA’s existing policy on political activity, Policy Statement Number CPS-022, which has been in effect since 2003.

The purpose of the advisory is to remind charities to be especially diligent in monitoring for partisan political activity in light of the upcoming federal election.  CRA specifically mentions that charities must delete or edit any partisan political statements that members of the public make on their websites, blogs, or social media platforms.  Charities must also make sure that any public comments made by their staff or volunteers (including on social media) clearly indicate that the comments are made in the personal capacity of a particular staff member or volunteer.

The full text of the CRA’s newly-published advisory is reproduced below.

Advisory on partisan political activities

Since we are in an election period, we remind registered charities that they are prohibited from devoting any of their resources to partisan political activities. A partisan political activity is one that involves the direct or indirect support of, or opposition to, any political party at any time, whether during an election period or not, or a candidate for public office.

The prohibition on partisan political activity is a long-standing requirement under the Income Tax Act. Charities are responsible for their resources, and must devote these resources to exclusively charitable purposes. Since they are well placed to study, assess, and comment on government policies that relate to their charitable programs, charities can engage in a limited amount of non-partisan political activities. However, charities that devote any resources to partisan political activities may no longer be eligible for registration. A charity’s resources include funds, property, and personnel (volunteers, employees, and directors).

Partisan political activity may include, but is not limited to:

  • providing financial or material contributions to a political party or candidate
  • making public statements (oral or written) that endorse or denounce a candidate or political party
  • criticizing or praising the performance of a candidate or political party
  • organizing an all-candidates meeting or public forum in a way that could be seen to favour a political party or candidate
  • inviting candidates to speak at different dates or different events in a way that favours a candidate or political party
  • posting signs in support of, or opposition to, a candidate or political party
  • distributing literature or voter guides that promote or oppose a candidate or political party explicitly or by implication
  • explicitly connecting its views on an issue to any political party or candidate

The restrictions on partisan political activities do not prevent volunteers, employees, or directors of charities from:

  • helping in a political campaign, as long as they do this in their personal capacity and do not suggest they represent a charity
  • making partisan political comments in public (including on social media), as long as they make it clear they are speaking in their personal capacity and not as a representative of a charity

Charities that use the Internet or social media to post information should ensure the information does not contain partisan political statements. Also, the information should not link to statements made by a third party that support or oppose a candidate or political party. 

When a charity invites comments on its website, blogs, or on social media, it should monitor them for partisan political statements and remove, edit, or moderate such statements within a reasonable time.