On February 4, 2011, CRA released for consultation a proposed Guidance on the Promotion of Animal Welfare. The Guidance sets out the guidelines that CRA uses to determine if an organization established to promote the welfare of animals can be registered or maintain registration as a charity.

When is promoting animal welfare a charitable purpose?

The Guidance defines the promotion of animal welfare as “taking steps to improve the health, well-being, or security of animals in a way the courts have recognized as charitable.” As with all charitable purposes, the promotion of animal welfare must fit within one or more of the four accepted heads of charity: (i) relief of poverty, (ii) advancement of education, (iii) advancement of religion, and (iv) other purposes beneficial to the community that are considered charitable at law. The Guidance states that the promotion of animal welfare may fall under any of the following recognized charitable purposes:

  • promoting education
  • promoting the moral or ethical development of the community
  • upholding the administration and enforcement of the law
  • protecting the environment
  • promoting agriculture

CRA states that 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. CRA does state however that relieving suffering of animals, and particularly animals that have been mistreated, abandoned or injured, is charitable in that “it tends to promote public morality by checking [humanity's] innate tendency to cruelty.” Thus, setting up a rescue shelter for such animals may be charitable, whereas placing a bird feeder in an ordinary suburban backyard is generally not.

CRA states that any benefit or potential benefit to the welfare of animals must be balanced against any harm or potential harm to humans when deciding whether an organization or activity that promotes the welfare of animals is charitable. The public benefit resulting from promoting the welfare of animals must clearly outweigh any harm or potential harm to humans. Thus, for example, organizations established to curb the practice of animal experimentation generally cannot be registered, as the benefits to humans that may result from such experimentation (e.g., new medicines) have been held to outweigh the suffering of the animals.

All animal welfare charities must of course also comply with Canadian laws and public policy. Thus, while it is charitable to uphold existing laws for the prevention of animal cruelty – for example, by contacting appropriate authorities concerning suspected cases of animal mistreatment – it would not be charitable for an organization to break and enter another’s property to rescue animals or to vandalize the property of another in an attempt to change their behaviour.

CRA also notes that any private benefit arising from animal welfare activities must be limited to minor and incidental by-products of a charitable activity. Thus, for example, if a charity acquires a valuable animal through a breeding program for endangered species, it must ensure that no improper benefit flows to the directors, employees or members of the charity from the sale or use of the animal.

Acceptable ways of promoting the welfare of animals

The Guidance sets out examples of charitable activities that promote animal welfare. These activities correspond with the purposes (set out above) that CRA indicates will be regarded as charitable.

Under the heading of advancement of education, CRA states that charitable animal welfare activities could include any of the following:

  • providing courses in animal welfare law
  • conducting research on predator-prey ratios in given areas
  • researching wild animal populations, their health, or migration habits
  • offering training in the safe coexistence of humans and dangerous or predatory animals

CRA states that educational activities must constitute a structured attempt to advance the knowledge or abilities of students or the public, or improve a useful branch of human knowledge through research. Educational activities cannot simply promote a point of view, but must be reasonably objective.

With respect to charitable activities falling under the fourth head of charity – other purposes beneficial to the community – CRA provides the following examples of acceptable charitable activities:

  • operating a non-profit animal hospital
  • rescuing and rehabilitating wild animals, and returning them to the wild
  • spaying or neutering domestic pets, feral, or stray animals
  • rescuing and holding for adoption stray, abandoned, or surrendered animals
  • offering temporary shelter for the pets of individuals fleeing domestic abuse
  • providing a sanctuary for aging or dangerous animals that cannot be adopted or returned to the wild

CRA elaborates further on certain forms of animal welfare work – specifically, work to relieve animal suffering and animal rescue work – and when these activities will be found to be charitable. CRA also notes that activities to uphold and enforce existing laws are charitable and in the animal welfare context could include:

  • monitoring the practices of zoos and the welfare of zoo animals to ensure compliance with relevant laws
  • monitoring communities for violations of existing federal, provincial, or territorial laws, or municipal bylaws

Finally, CRA notes that animal welfare activities may be charitable as protection of the environment and as promotion of agriculture.

Conclusion

The draft Guidance is welcome for consolidating and setting out CRA’s position with regard to charitable animal welfare activities. CRA invites the public to submit comments on the draft Guidance, and indicates that comments will be accepted until March 31, 2011. Such public consultation can help identify areas where additional clarity or guidance is needed and interested parties are encouraged to comment.

The draft Guidance can be found by clicking here.