Canadian Mennonite warned of political activities

November 7, 2012 | God at work in the Church | Number 22
By Carl DeGurse |

A federal government agency has warned Canadian Mennonite about publishing material that could rally its readers to oppose specific politicians and political parties. A letter to the magazine from Canada Revenue says: “It has come to our attention that recent issues . . . have contained editorials and/or articles that appear to promote opposition to a political party, or to candidates for public office.”

The letter from Paul E. Fournier, office audit officer, reminded the magazine of “the limitations imposed on registered charities regarding partisan activities,” citing subsections under the Income Tax Act and its Regulations that speak to rules around “political advocacy.”

“Under the Act, charities are allowed to engage in some political activities, but are prohibited from engaging in partisan political activities.”

Although the registered letter was delivered July 23, the decision to report its contents to Canadian Mennonite readers was delayed until the matter was discussed at the semi-annual meeting of the magazine board’s executive on Oct. 13.

No specific editorials or articles were cited in the letter, and Dick Benner, Canadian Mennonite editor and publisher, said he phoned Fournier and asked for specific citations. Four days later, in a second conversation with Benner, Fournier cited two editorials and four articles appearing in the Young Voices section of the paper:

An editorial by Benner called readers to “Vote your Core Beliefs” (April 18, 2011). “While we won’t endorse candidates of the five political parties in the upcoming election, or tell you how to vote, we do ask you as Mennonite voters to both examine the political views and voting records of candidates regarding our deeply held core beliefs in peace-making, compassion for the poor and care for creation before placing your ballot in the ballot box.”

In another editorial, titled “A Political Lament” (May 16, 2011), Benner wrote that he was “intrigued and saddened by two political events of the past ten days in two North American countries—the take-out of Osama bin Laden by the U.S. military and the take-over by a militaristic Conservative majority government in Monday’s election in Canada.”

The Young Voices articles cited were entitled “Political Issues for a young electorate,” (Oct. 3, 2011) by Aaron Epp, “Jack Layton inspires young people to vote for change,” (Sept. 19, 2011) by Rachel Bergen, “Planes for Peace,” (Aug. 1, 2011) by Emily Loewen, and “MCC calls on feds to seriously rethink Bill C-10,” (Nov. 14, 2011) by Rachel Bergen.

The section of the Income Tax Act to which Fournier refers says, in part, that a registered charity “devotes substantially all of its resources to charitable purposes,” but that it can “devote part of its resources to political activities—up to 10 per cent,” but that these activities are “ancillary and incidental to its charitable purposes” and “do not include direct or indirect support of or opposition to any political party or candidate for public office.”

Benner said he explained to Fournier that the cited editorials and articles were not partisan in nature and were not advocating specifics, but rather were done “as statements of the Mennonite core belief” in non-violence and objection to war as a solution for political conflict—core beliefs that are deeply held by our people over our 500-year history.”

But, in a written response to the “reminder,” Benner reassured the CRA audit officer that “it is our intent to obey the law and to operate within the guidelines set forth in these documents despite some differences we may have in their interpretation.”

Revenue Canada has a relationship with Canadian Mennonite because the agency governs the charitable status that lets individual donors to Canadian Mennonite get tax credit for their financial gifts. It is also important in maintaining such status with its publishing partners, namely the area churches and Mennonite Church Canada, which funds 44 per cent of the magazine’s budget through an Every Home Plan that subsidizes subscriptions.

The editor consulted the executive committee of the 12-member board of Canadian Mennonite which, after discussing the issue in a meeting in Winnipeg in October, moved to “support the editor’s desire to make our readers aware of the CRA auditor’s recent reminder letter about the law regarding political advocacy and how that letter has affected the publication.”

Benner has also been consulting others in what he calls a “leadership circle,” including representatives of Mennonite Church Canada, Mennonite Central Committee (Ottawa and Winnipeg) and legal representatives knowledgeable of the CRA tax laws.

Carl DeGurse is vice-chair of the Board of Directors of Canadian Mennonite.

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The Canadian government is only acting on the natural impulse of a nanny state. Its objective is to consolidate all power. As long as the church is in competition with the state for providing for some people's needs, the state will feel threatened. In the U.S., president Obama is also threatening to eliminate churches' charitable status, though for other reasons - state enforced contraceptives and abortifacients.
The church (in North America) is currently being subsidized by the taxpayer through its charitable status and is therefore existing in a state of grace compared to the persecution it suffers in many countries today. It doesn't surprise me that when the church does not proclaim the gospel but focuses on pacifism and 'social justice' (redistribution of wealth - clearly a secular socialist notion), it is going to wither, as evidenced by the state of most liberal churches today.
I used to attend a Mennonite church where a liberal faction took over and proceeded to instruct us on voting. It was insulting. The drift of the Mennonite church toward liberalism and away from God is a disturbing trend that could contribute to its demise. Maybe the wake-up call from the federal government has a 'higher' meaning.

I grew up in the Mennonite Church (GC). As a 19 year old I was at Wichita KS when we became MCC. I am a pacifist because of Jesus' example. I am very very proud of my Mennonite Heritage.
I am also deeply disturbed by the polarization in our society and this includes our churches.
Evangelical churches have moved sharply to the right. Our Mennonite churches have moved sharply to the left.
Both have become very political lately.
I actually agree with the government on this one.

The Mennonite needs to be careful and not to become partisan. My baptist family and friends need to do the same on the right.
Separation of Church and state is a very important tenant of my Anabaptist roots.

Perhaps we might review the benifits of our charitable organisation status. Is it worth it?

There is no right to tax-exempt status. It is a privilege given in order to encourage certain behaviour. The government is perfectly free to implement the policy as they see fit, so long as they do not violate other Charter guarantees such as the right to equality (S. 15).

I see the charitable tax exemption status as less a privilege, and more a long standing tradition inside the tax policies. If the government wishes to impact on how Canadians think and "encourage certain behaviour", they might try to have a policy discussion in the House where we could have an up front debate. Then those agitating to change our behaviour would identify themselves.

Every Canadian should be repulsed and indignant at anyone -especially a so-called democratic government-picking on a pacifist people's plea for reaffirming their "core beliefs in peace-making, compassion for the poor..." We could get embroiled in the details of the whole incident, however where the focus should be is the real aim of the CRA's letter to all Canadians through the Mennonite Magazine: "someone is watching you, so be afraid" if you don't toe the party-line. It is this that's of the utmost treachery.
I am truly happy that the Mennonite Magazine's board decided to go public with the CRA's letter. Silence is the strongest weapon for governments trying to instill fear, and divide and rule. This is an appeal to all Canadians who might feel intimidated: publish every letter that tries to silence such values, tell your children and your students, your parents and your friends to fight such reprehensive tactics. We know too well what happened to those who kept silent during times of war and destruction.


One may find something of interest in the 2008 brief by the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada which had expressed concern some time ago with CRA's opinions.

Three important points are noted:
1. That the CRA is continuously updating its interpretations, and that this interpretation is clearly something new. Older interpretations in CRA's Notes and Questions discussion paper (Oct 10, 2008) provided examples of activities which fell within the purview of "advancement of religion" and that these are quite distinct from "lobbying", which is clearly defined under the Lobbying Act. Canadian Mennonite is not "lobbying".

2. That the courts have the final word, not CRA.... " ...the task of modernizing the definition of charity has always fallen to the courts. There is no indication that Parliament has expressed dissatisfaction with this state of affairs, and it is plain that had Parliament wanted to develop a statutory definition of charity, it could have done so. It has not." (Justice Gonthier, dissenting opinion in Vancouver Society of Immigrant and Minority Women v. Canada, 1999)

3. CRA doesn't generally go fishing like this without a complaint. It would indeed be instructive to discover who complained, and who in the political assemblage either knew or acquiesced. Several MPs have blotted their copybooks recently, and may not be so quick-eyed as to discern civil encroachments on one of the fundamental freedoms we exercise daily.

I am becoming very alarmed at the how far the sitting government is intruding into the public's right to free speech, and the extent to which they are attempting to control media. I am compelled to do something about this especially after reading of this warning letter from CRA to Canadian Mennonite Magazine, and after hearing of the firing of Jill Wiznosky, a reporter for the Selkirk Record who was fired after James Bezan complained of her coverage of a rally that protested the Omnibus budget bill. The idea of a meeting is to simply gather ideas on how to hold MPs like Mr. Bezan accountable for their actions, and to really simply make it known, we will not be silenced into submission. If you are interested in attending, here are the details;

Political Bullying an Interference in Journalism: What can We Do About It?

Wednesday evening, November 21st from 7 pm to 9 PM

Red River Community Centre at 293 Murray Ave.


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