By Nick Fillmore
Physicians for Global Survival (PGS), a highly regarded Canadian NGO that has been campaigning to abolish nuclear weapons for 32 years, is losing its charitable tax status.
“We promote nuclear disarmament,” said staff member Andrea Levy, “but we’ve been told we’re too political. We do too much advocacy."
However, the content of the PGS website (www.pgs.ca) and its newsletter Turning Point do not present the picture of an organization that is moderately political, let alone radical.
The Harper government attacked Canada’s highly-regarded charitable sector in its recent budget, warning that charities that surpass the rule of devoting more than 10 per cent of their total resources to political work will lose their charitable status.
The aggressive comments by various Conservative cabinet ministers were clearly aimed at a handful of environmental organizations that Harper feels may interfere with the government’s vision of energy development.
But Levy said that the Canadian Revenue Agency (CRA) has been monitoring PGS for some time, and that it became apparent last December that the organization was going to lose its tax status.
This is believed to be the first case of a highly reputable charitable organization losing its status since Greenpeace was banned in 1999.
PGS’s mission statement says: “Because of our concern for global health, we are committed to the abolition of nuclear weapons, the prevention of war, the promotion of nonviolent means of conflict resolution and social justice in a sustainable world.”
The most recent issue of Turning Point contains only one very low key item that could be construed as being mildly political. It calls on Canadians to sign a petition to go to the government asking them to organize and host a conference on nuclear disarmament in Canada.
Most of the articles that appear on the cover page of the website are reprinted articles from Canadian and international newspapers.
Over the years, Canada’s most highly regarded physicians have held positions on PGS’s Executive Committee and Board. The current President is Dr. Richard Denton of Kirkland Lake, and the Past-President Dr. Michael Dworkind of Montreal.
PGS is a member of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), which was established in 1980. The network issues a report last month that said “more than a billion people around the world would face starvation following a limited regional nuclear weapons exchange (such as a clash between India and Pakistan) that would cause major worldwide climate disruption driving down food production in China, the US and other nations.”
Now that PGS is losing its charitable status, it hopes that people are willing to give the organization a contribution without receiving a tax break. The public can contact PGS at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more or to make a donation.
Interestingly, the removal of PGS’s charitable tax status comes at a time when the Harper government is being criticized as being a laggard on the issue of nuclear disarmament.
“Canada is uniquely positioned to assume such a leadership role,” Plowshares said in a report last fall. “Besides enjoying well-earned international credibility as an honest broker, the country is a member of NATO, an active player in the global nuclear energy industry, a state party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and a member of the G8 and G20. Yet the Harper government has failed to make nuclear disarmament a top foreign policy priority.”
Canada is one of the countries that have not so far supported UN resolutions calling for formal negotiations toward a nuclear weapons convention to begin in 2014. However, more than three-quarters of UN member countries have supported the resolution.
Critics say that Canada, in addition to supporting the UN resolution, should offer to host in 2012 a preparatory committee meeting of states and civil society representatives to begin planning for that negotiation process.
This kind of underhanded and highly political tactic by the Harper government should encourage all progressive and political organizations with charitable status to come together to fight this kind of action from happening to more organizations and, if groups lose their status, to assist them while they become financially stable without the benefit of having special status. There is strength in numbers.
Groups concerned about losing the tax advantage should learn the details about what the government can, and cannot, do, and not panic. Charities have a right to allocate 10 per cent of their resources to political activities, and they should exercise that right.
by Nick Fillmore
Nick is a social activisit and a journalist. He has written on the subject of Charities and the tax status on his blog www.nickfillmore.blogpost.com
Contact Nick at email@example.com