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Dear CRA, Who Watches The Birdwatcher Watcher?

The below video originally appeared on the Toronto Star.

Birdwatchers – the paparazzi of the natural world – are subverting our democracy according to the Canada Revenue Agency – the overbearing mother of the financial world.

The Kitchener-Waterloo Field Naturalists, a registered charity, recently wrote a letter to federal cabinet members complaining about pesticides linked to dying bees. Shortly after, they got a letter from CRA warning them to “refrain from undertaking any partisan activities.” Activities like their dogmatic anti-bee-death manifesto.

It’s part of a recent crackdown on charities for political activities. CRA rules state that to get tax-free status a charity must be non-partisan. But what charity isn’t partisan? They all support something. We don’t say “Okay, we’ve heard from the ice-bucket challenge guys, but let’s give the pro-ALS folks a chance to weigh in on this… and their buckets of lava.”

And if CRA is so concerned with partisan charities, why aren’t they auditing The Fraser Institute? A “charitable” right-wing think tank whose heroic mission is to protect private profits from abuse by the poor, and protect climate change deniers from reality, and whose donors include Exxon, the tobacco industry and the Koch brothers. They tried getting a donation from Hans Gruber and someone had to tell them that was just the bad guy in Die Hard that’s not a real guy.

And if we’re really serious about people avoiding taxes, what are we doing about the billions we lose each year to offshore tax havens? It turns out, not much. Documents leaked early this year show that over 3000 full-time positions will be cut from the CRA budget in the next four years, including auditors.

So if the birdwatchers really want to keep the CRA off their back, they don’t need to stop partisan activities. They just need to stop being not rich. 

Like a kid in a candy store
When those boxes of heavily redacted documents start to pile in, reporters at The Narwhal waste no time in looking for kernels of news that matter the most. Just ask our Prairies reporter Drew Anderson, who gleefully scanned through freedom of information files like a kid in a candy store, leading to pretty damning revelations in Alberta. Long story short: the government wasn’t being forthright when it claimed its pause on new renewable energy projects wasn’t political. Just like that, our small team was again leading the charge on a pretty big story

In an oil-rich province like Alberta, that kind of reporting is crucial. But look at our investigative work on TC Energy’s Coastal GasLink pipeline to the west, or our Greenbelt reporting out in Ontario. They all highlight one thing: those with power over our shared natural world don’t want you to know how — or why — they call the shots. And we try to disrupt that.

Our journalism is powered by people just like you. We never take corporate ad dollars, or put this public-interest information behind a paywall. Will you join the pod of Narwhals that make a difference by helping us uncover some of the most important stories of our time?
Like a kid in a candy store
When those boxes of heavily redacted documents start to pile in, reporters at The Narwhal waste no time in looking for kernels of news that matter the most. Just ask our Prairies reporter Drew Anderson, who gleefully scanned through freedom of information files like a kid in a candy store, leading to pretty damning revelations in Alberta. Long story short: the government wasn’t being forthright when it claimed its pause on new renewable energy projects wasn’t political. Just like that, our small team was again leading the charge on a pretty big story

In an oil-rich province like Alberta, that kind of reporting is crucial. But look at our investigative work on TC Energy’s Coastal GasLink pipeline to the west, or our Greenbelt reporting out in Ontario. They all highlight one thing: those with power over our shared natural world don’t want you to know how — or why — they call the shots. And we try to disrupt that.

Our journalism is powered by people just like you. We never take corporate ad dollars, or put this public-interest information behind a paywall. Will you join the pod of Narwhals that make a difference by helping us uncover some of the most important stories of our time?

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