Refunds being issued to 'Oxygen for India' donors after non-profit organization finds regulatory issues

·2 min read
A health worker inoculates a labourer with the first dose of Covishield vaccine against COVID-19 in a passenger bus converted into a mobile vaccination centre at a wholesale market in Kolkata on June 3, 2021.  (Dibyangshu Sarkar/AFP/Getty Images - image credit)
A health worker inoculates a labourer with the first dose of Covishield vaccine against COVID-19 in a passenger bus converted into a mobile vaccination centre at a wholesale market in Kolkata on June 3, 2021. (Dibyangshu Sarkar/AFP/Getty Images - image credit)

A non-profit organization that set out to raise $2 million to help India in its fight against a deadly wave of COVID-19 is refunding the money collected to donors, citing regulatory issues.

The Indo-Canada Chamber of Commerce began fundraising earlier this year to purchase oxygen supplies for India, holding a series of virtual fundraisers called "Oxygen for India" on Sundays — with the most recent happening on June 6. The events ran on social media platforms as well as a number of television channels, with some donors offering to match donations up to $1 million.

The organization's first event on May 16 raised $88,220 in just under three hours.

But this week, donors received emails telling them the money they donated was being sent back.

Unlike a charity, a non-profit organization cannot issue a tax receipt, ICCC executive director Mayank Bhatt told CBC News. For that reason, the organization partnered with three registered charities, through which it planned to route donations. Those charities could in turn issue tax receipts to individual donors.

The ICCC says it's now returning donations to those donors, after it learned one of the charities it teamed up with didn't have permission to operate outside Canada.

Indo-Canada Chamber of Commerce/Facebook
Indo-Canada Chamber of Commerce/Facebook

"The audit and legal opinion sought for this purpose were unequivocal — our institution should refund the individual donors of the donation amount," Bhatt said in an email to CBC News Tuesday.

"Unfortunately, the Board was made aware of the variance a little late, but once the circumstances were made clear, the Board was left with no choice but to refund the donation amount to individual donors."

In May, ICCC president Vijay Thomas told CBC News the organization had enlisted the help for more than 82 other Indo-Canadian organizations. It's unclear what the move to refund individual donors' contributions might mean for those organizations.

As of May, the ICCC said 1,500 oxygen concentrators that it had already purchased were on their way to hospitals in India.

India's official COVID-19 death toll is 414,000, but experts believe the actual number killed by the virus could be a staggering 10 times more than that. Many experts believe the official toll is a significant undercount, but the government has dismissed those concerns as exaggerated and misleading.

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