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Stephen Harper's acts of charity

John Bell

June 10, 2014

I suspect that, for most of you, the last word that springs to mind when you think of Stephen Harper is “charitable”. Yet he must be, to extend charitable status to Canadian men’s rights organization called Canadian Association for Equality.
The fellows at CAFE are delighted, not only because their supporters can get tax breaks in return for donations:  “Perhaps most significant is that this development, following a detailed review of our programs by the Canada Revenue Agency, serves as a major legitimization of our men’s issues agenda and a great step for our movement.” Great–legitimization for a movement that believes most women who are raped are really asking for it.
All is not a bed of roses for mostly white men in our society, and that is pretty much the fault of women. CAFE’s “mandate” may blather on about the “health and well-being of boys and men,” but its real mission is to attack feminism.
CAFE’s benign language masks a reactionary backlash against the gains–the insufficient gains, I might add–that women have made over several generations. Check out the comments on any on-line article about Men’s Rights Activists (MRAs) and you’ll discover barely disguised misogyny and threats of violence, particularly sexual violence, against women critics. For them feminism is the enemy, alternately a joke or an insult.
Let’s just say they prove “Lewis’s Law” which states: the comments on any article about feminism justify the existence of feminism.
So when CAFE organized a music festival to celebrate “Equality Day” in Toronto, social media bombarded the concert venue and the bands with facts about the men’s rights movement. The venue scrapped the event and the bands pulled out, apologizing for not doing their homework on the event or its sponsor.
There are plenty of good resources exposing outfits like CAFE, and I’ll leave MRAs for another column. What angers me most in all of this is that the Harper government–through granting charitable status by the Canadian Revenue Agency–has given its seal of approval to this group and this dog’s breakfast of creepy ideas.
'Charity' as a weapon
What is not new is the way Harper has used “charity” as a weapon to attack ideas and causes he dislikes and to promote those he favours. In his 2012 Omnibus budget bill, Harper devoted $8 million for the CRA to investigate registered charities engaged in “political activities.”
To receive charitable status organizations have contribute toward the social good, through actions, education or research. To retain the status, they cannot spend more than 10 per cent of their resources on political activity, advocacy or lobbying.
It was an open secret that the move was meant to intimidate environmental organizations critical of the fossil fuel industry. The Suzuki Foundation and Forest Ethics were two groups that bore the brunt of expensive audits and investigation.
David Suzuki resigned his seat on the Suzuki Foundation board in order to speak out against the government: “I am keenly aware that some governments, industries and special interest groups are working hard to silence us. They use threats to the Foundation's charitable status in attempts to mute its powerful voice on issues that matter deeply to you and many other Canadians. This bullying demonstrates how important it is to speak out.”
In particular, charities with international connections–especially those opposed to tar sands development and pipeline building–were targeted. As then Environment Minister Peter Kent told parliament: “The opposition members can whinge all they want but the fact of the matter is some charitable organizations have allegedly used funds from outside this country inappropriately in regard to their charitable status.” Kent was full of shit. Two years and $8 million later, only one group out of about 900 has had its charitable status revoked.
Physicians for Global Survival (PGS) has been around for over 30 years, warning about nuclear war and promoting disarmament. PGS is affiliated to International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW). This group won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985. But because the Tory audit decided that about 20 per cent of PGS resources went to political advocacy, its status was yanked.
Anecdotally, I can tell you the attack on charities has had an effect. Organizations are looking over their shoulders, reluctant to engage in advocacy or speak loudly on issues like civil liberties, environmental degradation and increasing militarism.
Financing propaganda
On the other side of the charity ledger are those that Harper likes.
I doubt the Fraser Institute faced a serious audit. The “think tank” cranks out a steady stream of climate change denial and pro-privatization propaganda for the media, and acts a pro-corporate lobby group. Yet this passes as “education” and “independent research”.
I doubt that the Manning (as in Preston) Foundation for Democratic Education faced much scrutiny. This is the “charitable” wing of The Manning Centre, devoted to building the conservative movement in Canada and around the world. It conducts “research and education to strengthen the basic building blocks of democracy–ideas, education, mentorship and communications–to ensure that anyone who chooses to play an active role in politics is adequately prepared to do so.” In other words your tax dollars are going to train the next generation of Tory tricksters.
You are also supporting, through your taxes, The Canadian Constitution Foundation, a lobby group against universal public healthcare and union rights. Do you think they faced the same degree of Tory scrutiny as, say, Forest Ethics?
Every aspect of the state is a tool in Harper’s hands, to attack the ideas and causes he hates: anti-militarism, environmentalism and real human rights organizations. Granting charitable status to a group of sexist creeps like CAFE is appalling, but hardly surprising.
To date grass-roots opposition has succeeded in cutting the men’s rights yahoos down to size. It’s up to us to see that the Tory approval doesn’t change that.

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