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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. 

Hey there keener,
Thanks for being an avid reader of our in-depth journalism, which is read by millions and made possible thanks to more than 4,200 readers just like you.

The Narwhal's growing team is hitting the ground running in 2022 to tell stories about the natural world that go beyond doom-and-gloom headlines — and we need your support.

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With your help, we’ll be able to do so much more in 2022. If you believe in the power of independent journalism, join our pod by becoming a Narwhal today. (P.S. Did you know we’re able to issue charitable tax receipts?)
Hey there keener,
Thanks for being an avid reader of our in-depth journalism, which is read by millions and made possible thanks to more than 4,200 readers just like you.

The Narwhal's growing team is hitting the ground running in 2022 to tell stories about the natural world that go beyond doom-and-gloom headlines — and we need your support.

Our model of independent, non-profit journalism means we can pour resources into doing the kind of environmental reporting you won’t find anywhere else in Canada, from investigations that hold elected officials accountable to deep dives showcasing the real people enacting real climate solutions.

There’s no advertising or paywall on our website (we believe our stories should be free for all to read), which means we count on our readers to give whatever they can afford each month to keep The Narwhal’s lights on.

The amazing thing? Our faith is being rewarded. We hired seven new staff over the past year and won a boatload of awards for our features, our photography and our investigative reporting.

With your help, we’ll be able to do so much more in 2022. If you believe in the power of independent journalism, join our pod by becoming a Narwhal today. (P.S. Did you know we’re able to issue charitable tax receipts?)

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