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“Charities are a fundamental expression of civil society” – Tonya Surman

A recent court ruling ended an rule that stated Canadian charities were permitted to devote only 10% of their resources to political activities. After hearing the news, our CEO Tonya Surman sent the following email to the Honourable Diane Lebouthillie, Minister of National Revenue. 


Dear Minister Lebouthillier,

This morning I woke up to learn about the courts decision to discontinue the 10% rule for charities and to protect freedom of expression. I am ecstatic.

Who else and where else in society can citizens organize to actually evolve policy in order to keep government connected to some of the greatest needs in our communities Charities are a fundamental expression of civil society. Having worked in the charitable sector for my entire career, I am jubilant at this decision.

But we need more than just this one decision; we need a fundamental review and modernization of our charitable law. The current laws are 300 years old, profoundly limited in scope and kafkaesque in their implementation. They are contradictory, unclear and create fear instead of solutions.

In addition to political activities, charities are also prevented from being able to undertake activities which would ensure their ability to continue to serve Canadians. The ‘related or unrelated income’ clauses make it frustrating if near impossible to ensure that we can raise enough money through earned revenue to be able to pay our staff. One side of government tells us to be more self-sufficient while the other side tells us not to be self-sufficient – all in a time when philanthropy is shifting dramatically. The area of social enterprise is an exciting and powerful tool for societal change but the charity laws fail to unlock and enable our sector to play our full role in society. We need tools in the charitable sector that enable us to be innovative, relevant and responsive to the changing times.

If Canada is to build an inclusive innovation agenda and to lead the world in creating a ‘caring economy’, we need a strong, clear and unlocking foundation on which to build.

I invite you Minister, to consider using this opportunity – this court decision – to review Canada’s charitable law and to consider a modernization process to bring our civil society groups into a position where we can more fully become a part of the solution. Canada and charities are telling you that we can do more than just ‘treat symptoms’… we can drive solutions, solve problems, address disconnects… we can unlock the potential of civil society and play our role in making Canada the most caring country in the world.

Please help us to be a part of the solution,

Tonya Surman, CEO
Centre for Social Innovation

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