Intelligence watchdog investigating CRA following Islamophobia claims
One of Canada's intelligence review bodies has launched an investigation into the Canada Revenue Agency's work on charities in response to allegations of bias and Islamophobia.
On Tuesday, the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency (NSIRA) — the watchdog set up to monitor the activities of Canada's national security and intelligence bodies — released a letter it sent to Bob Hamilton, commissioner of the CRA, announcing its intention to probe the department's review and analysis wing.
That CRA division is tasked with making sure registered charities aren't being used to finance terrorism. It has been accused of unfairly targeting Muslim charities for audits based on questionable grounds.
NSIRA said the review will focus on the CRA program's "national security activities and decision-making relating to registered Canadian charities, to assess their reasonableness, necessity and compliance with the law."
National Revenue Minister Diane Lebouthillier said she welcomes the investigation.
"The government of Canada stands with and supports Muslim communities across Canada and reaffirms its commitment to take action to denounce and tackle Islamophobia, hate-fuelled violence and systemic discrimination whenever and wherever it occurs," says a media statement from her office.
A 2021 report by the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group said CRA's review and analysis division carried out audits "with little accountability or independent review."
The national civil liberties coalition reported that 75 per cent of the organizations whose charitable status was revoked following division audits from 2008 to 2015 were Muslim charities, and at least another four have seen their status pulled since then.
NSIRA will have access to classified information
One of those charities, the Muslim Association of Canada (MAC), said a years-long audit has been plagued by bias and Islamophobia. The charity, which describes itself as Canada's largest grassroots Muslim organization, is pursuing a Charter of Rights challenge.
The group's lawyer said the CRA has levelled unsubstantiated allegations against the charity and has engaged in "innuendo" about improper foreign ties and questions about the charitable benefits of its youth programs.
In a statement on Twitter, the association called NSIRA's investigation long overdue.
"As NSIRA begins its investigation, it is crucial that it consults with Muslim-led charities to understand their experiences," said MAC.
In July 2021, Lebouthillier asked the Office of the Taxpayers' Ombudsperson to "examine concerns raised by certain Muslim-led charities and engage other charitable organizations led by racialized communities about their experiences with the CRA."
Lebouthillier said NSIRA will be able to examine documents and specific charity files unavailable to the ombudsperson due to the restrictions of the Income Tax Act and other national security rules.
NSIRA is an independent and external review body with a mandate to review Canada's intelligence and security activities. The group has unfettered access to classified information and reports to Parliament.