OTTAWA — Muslim charities from across Canada, fearful they are being unfairly singled out for audits, want the national security watchdog to investigate the matter.
Charities, non-profit organizations and supportive civil society voices are flagging the concerns in a letter sent Wednesday to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and several members of his cabinet.
A recently released report by the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group said the Review and Analysis Division of the Canada Revenue Agency’s charities directorate works with national security agencies to carry out the audits, with little accountability.
It said that from 2008 to 2015, 75 per cent of the organizations whose charitable status was revoked following division audits were Muslim charities, and that at least another four have had their status pulled since then.
It added that despite these revocations, not a single Muslim charitable organization or individual associated with one had been charged with a terrorist financing crime.
In response to the report, the Canada Revenue Agency said it does not select registered charities for audit based on any particular faith or denomination, adding it is firmly dedicated to diversity, inclusion and anti-racism.
Still, the 129 signatories of the letter to Trudeau, including the National Council of Canadian Muslims, the Edmonton Islamic Centre, the London Muslim Mosque, the Ottawa-based ICLMG and other civil society organizations, want the Liberal government to implement the monitoring group report's recommendations.
The report urged the government to refer the issue to Canada's security watchdog, the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency, for an examination of the Review and Analysis Division's processes to ensure organizations are not being targeted due to racial or religious prejudice.
It also said Revenue Minister Diane Lebouthillier should declare an immediate moratorium on the targeted audit of Muslim charities until the review is complete.
Muslim charities offer important religious services in mosques, education through schools, and social services and youth programs at centres, says the letter to Trudeau, Lebouthillier, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland and Public Safety Minister Bill Blair.
"They offer relief to the most vulnerable in Canada and abroad. They are developing a healthy and strong Canadian Muslim identity that contributes to our strength through diversity every single day," the letter says.
"Targeting Muslim charities on the basis of terrorist financing suspicions simply because of the religion they uphold is Islamophobic and prejudiced."
Dismantling such prejudice is the first step in fighting hate, adds the letter, which notes Trudeau has promised an emergency national summit on Islamophobia in coming weeks.
"It is also important for our community to see effective action against systemic and structural Islamophobia. We call on you to put an end to the Islamophobic practices within the CRA and to ensure oversight and accountability."
The Prime Minister's Office referred questions to the revenue minister.
A spokesman for Lebouthillier said the federal revenue agency is at arm's length from the offices of the revenue minister and the prime minister and, as such, these offices do not "instruct the CRA to begin audits, nor do they intervene in audits underway."
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said federal resources must be directed against the extreme right-wing groups that pose a real threat to security, including the safety of Muslims.
"The Muslim community is feeling that injustice, and that unfairness, about being targeted on one hand, but then nothing being done to protect them on the other," Singh said Wednesday.
"And so this is a real pain that leaders in the Muslim community are feeling. And it should be a moment for us to say: that can't continue, that is wrong."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 23, 2021.
Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press