Canada: Can A Political Purpose Also Be A Charitable Purpose? Perspectives On The Impact Of Re Greenpeace Of New Zealand Inc. In Canada

A number of Canadian charities have recently come under scrutiny by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) regarding their charitable status. In Canada, a registered charity pays no income tax and is able to issue tax receipts to its donors. Those receipts are then used for non-refundable tax credits or deductions. The Canadian Press has reported that many registered charities in Canada, ranging from environmental to international aid and human-rights groups, have recently been subjected to political-activity audits by the CRA. The CRA has apparently budgeted approximately $13 million for these audits.1

In this context, we provide some insight into the Canadian law on registration for charitable status in light of a recent Supreme Court of New Zealand decision.

Current Canadian law on political activities and charitable status

Under Canadian law, registered charities are not allowed to have political purposes.

However, subsections 149.1(6.1) and (6.2) of the Income Tax Act (ITA) state that where a corporation, trust, or any other organization devotes substantially all of its resources to charitable purposes, it may also devote a part of its resources to political activities, and continue to meet the definition of charitable foundation or charitable organization, provided that those political activities are ancillary and incidental to its charitable purposes and do not include the direct or indirect support of, or opposition to, any political party or candidate for public office. The CRA interprets "substantially all" in subsections 149.1(6.1) and (6.2) to mean 90% of resources, including financial assets, equipment, premises and human capital.

The Canadian jurisprudence in this area of law was largely established by the Federal Courts in the mid-1980s, inspired by a 1917 decision from House of Lords, Bowman v Secular Society Ltd.2 In Bowman, it was held that, "A trust for the attainment of political objects has always been held invalid." Canadian courts, following Bowman, have adopted a similar position. In 1999, this was confirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada in Vancouver Society of Immigrant and Visible Minority Women v Canada (Minister of National Revenue).3

The CRA has issued guidance, which does not have force of law, clarifying how the CRA may interpret the ITA provisions. Guidance issued in 2003 provides that, "Any purpose that suggests convincing or needing people to act in a certain way and which is contingent upon a change to law or government policy (for example, 'the abolition of' or 'the total suppression of animal experimentation') is a political purpose."4 This guidance further states that the CRA will presume an activity to be political if a charity:

  • explicitly communicates a call to political action (...)
  • explicitly communicates to the public that the law, policy or decision of any level of government in Canada or a foreign country should be retained (...), opposed, or changed; or
  • explicitly indicates in its materials (...) that the intention of the activity is to incite, or organize to put pressure on, an elected representative or public official to retain, oppose, or change the law, policy, or decision of any level of government in Canada or a foreign country.5

Nearly 10 years later, the CRA issued additional guidance, titled "How to Draft Purposes for Charitable Registration."6 This guidance was intended to provide insight on how the Charities Directorate will determine whether or not a charity has been constituted for charitable purposes. It provides, among other things, that an analysis of an organization's activities and operations may reveal it is furthering an "unstated non-charitable purpose" that is not eligible for registration as a charity under the ITA. To illustrate this point, the CRA specifies that an organization devoting the majority of its resources to "political activities" would be ineligible for charitable registration, because in such case, the organization's purpose would be political rather than charitable.

Recent developments abroad: Re Greenpeace of New Zealand Inc.

In a recent decision,7 Greenpeace New Zealand Inc. sought recognition as a "charitable entity" under the Charities Act 2005 (NZ). The Charities Commission ruled that Greenpeace could not register as a charity because two of its purposes were not charitable: 1) the promotion of disarmament and peace and 2) the promotion of "legislation, policies, rules, regulations and plans which further [Greenpeace's other purposes] and support their enforcement or implementation through political or judicial processes as necessary."

The commission held that these purposes were not merely ancillary to its charitable purposes; they were independent, political, purposes. As in Canada, the jurisprudential doctrine developed in New Zealand in the 1980s was based on Bowman.

Greenpeace appealed this decision, arguing charitable status was not being considered on the correct basis. A majority of the Supreme Court allowed the appeal, holding that "(...) 'charitable' and 'political' purposes are not mutually exclusive if the political purpose is itself charitable because of public benefit within the sense the law regards as charitable. A 'political purpose exclusion' as a matter of law is not necessary."8 In its reasons, the court emphasized that the doctrine of exclusion of political purposes was relatively recent, based on little authority, and has not been necessary or beneficial.

The court further stated that a case where the promotion of views is properly regarded as charitable in itself is possible.

"More importantly, it is difficult to see that all advocacy for legislative change should be excluded from being recognised as charitable. Promotion of law reform of the type often undertaken by law commissions which aims to keep laws fit for modern purposes may well be properly seen as charitable if undertaken by private organisations even though such reform inevitably entails promotion of legislation. Such advocacy may well constitute in itself a public good which is analogous to other good works within the sense the law considers charitable."9

Although recognizing that such a case would be unusual, the court felt a "blanket exclusion" would create rigidity in an area of the law that should be responsive to the way in which society works.

"Just as the law of charities recognised the public benefit of philanthropy in easing the burden on parishes of alleviating poverty, keeping utilities in repair, and educating the poor in post-Reformation Elizabethan England, the circumstances of the modern outsourced and perhaps contracting state may throw up new need for philanthropy which is properly to be treated as charitable."10

Relevance to the Canadian context

Although not binding in Canada, the Supreme Court of New Zealand's decision is of interest. Since the law in both Canada and New Zealand is derived from Bowman, it could be used by Canadian charities determined to be ineligible for charitable registration or facing revocation of such status.

Moreover, the New Zealand decision is in line with the Australian stance on charitable status, which also does not exclude political purposes from qualification as a "charity." In Australia, the Charities Act, 2013 (Cth) codified the common law to better define the definition of charity and expand the meaning of "charitable purpose" to better address the needs of the contemporary not-for-profit sector.11 The codified definition was expanded to include purposes advancing social or public welfare, culture, or promoting or protecting human rights, amongst others.12

Furthermore, it does not exclude political purposes broadly; rather, it specifically excludes from registration entities whose objects involve "promoting or opposing a political party or a candidate for political office."13 This appears to be in line with the Supreme Court of New Zealand's reasoning.

The Supreme Court of New Zealand has recently concluded that the political purpose exclusion is outdated, not necessary nor beneficial, as well as lacking in legal basis. If given the opportunity, perhaps Canadian courts will re-evaluate whether a political purpose can be in fact be considered charitable in Canada.

The author wishes to thank Carole Gilbert, articling student, for her help in preparing this legal update.


1. The Canadian Press, "Pen Canada hit with political-activities tax audit" (July 21, 2014), online : CBC News,;

2. Bowman and others v. Secular Society Ltd., [1917] AC 406 [Bowman].

3.[1990] 1 R.C.S. 10.

4.Canada Revenue Agency, "Political Activities," Policy Statement CPS-022 (September 2, 2003), online: CRA,

5. Ibid at s.6.2.

6. Canada Revenue Agency, "How to Draft Purposes for Charitable Registration," Guidance CG-019 (July 25, 2013), online: CRA,

7.Re Greenpeace of New Zealand Inc [2014] NZSC 105

8.Ibid at paras 113-116.

9. Ibid at para 62.

10.Ibid at 69.

11. Chris Beeny and Julian Smith, "Charities Act 2013 takes effect: meaning of "charity"
clarified" (February 28, 2014), online: Maddocks,

12. Ibid.


Norton Rose Fulbright Canada LLP

Norton Rose Fulbright is a global legal practice. We provide the world's pre-eminent corporations and financial institutions with a full business law service. We have more than 3800 lawyers based in over 50 cities across Europe, the United States, Canada, Latin America, Asia, Australia, Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia.

Recognized for our industry focus, we are strong across all the key industry sectors: financial institutions; energy; infrastructure, mining and commodities; transport; technology and innovation; and life sciences and healthcare.

Wherever we are, we operate in accordance with our global business principles of quality, unity and integrity. We aim to provide the highest possible standard of legal service in each of our offices and to maintain that level of quality at every point of contact.

Norton Rose Fulbright LLP, Norton Rose Fulbright Australia, Norton Rose Fulbright Canada LLP, Norton Rose Fulbright South Africa (incorporated as Deneys Reitz Inc) and Fulbright & Jaworski LLP, each of which is a separate legal entity, are members ('the Norton Rose Fulbright members') of Norton Rose Fulbright Verein, a Swiss Verein. Norton Rose Fulbright Verein helps coordinate the activities of the Norton Rose Fulbright members but does not itself provide legal services to clients.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:
  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.
  • Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.
    If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here
    If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq you may opt out by clicking here

    Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

    Use of

    You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


    Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

    The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


    Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

    • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
    • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
    • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

    Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

    Information Collection and Use

    We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

    We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

    Mondaq News Alerts

    In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


    A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

    Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

    Log Files

    We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


    This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

    Surveys & Contests

    From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


    If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


    From time to time Mondaq may send you emails promoting Mondaq services including new services. You may opt out of receiving such emails by clicking below.

    *** If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of services offered by Mondaq you may opt out by clicking here .


    This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

    Correcting/Updating Personal Information

    If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

    Notification of Changes

    If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

    How to contact Mondaq

    You can contact us with comments or queries at

    If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.

    By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions