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by Eden Debebe and Reham AlAzem

In an exclusive interview with OMNI News, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau admitted ‘there is discrimination in all systems’ as Canadian Muslim-led charities call for a probe of Canada Revenue Agency tax audits.

“As a government, we have realized that systemic discrimination exists throughout every institution,” Trudeau said.

According to a recent report released by the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group (ICLMG), a division of the Canada Revenue Agency is unfairly targeting Muslim charities for audits it sid are based on “flimsy reasoning, amounting to discrimination.”

The national civil liberties coalition’s report revealed that from 2008 to 2015, 75 per cent of the charitable organizations that had their status revoked through CRA audits were Islamic charities.

“We certainly feel that it was a witch hunt and it was biased,” said Mahmouda Khan, executive director of Human Concern International (HCI).

The CRA recently gave the HCI a one-year suspension on issuing donor receipts after being accused of incorrectly issuing more than $307,000 in credits.

Khan said the receipts were a result of ‘diaspora fundraising’, a common practice where international charities collect funds on behalf of local charities. In this case, the HCI said they were coordinating with charity initiatives based in India, Bangladesh, Somalia and Kenya.

According to the Globe and Mail, the revenue agency rejected the charity’s assertions at the end of their audit, saying it was unable to accept its claims of third-party fundraising.

Despite the seemingly short ban, Khan said the three-year audit was enough to hinder the charity’s work even before the verdict was delivered.

“This decision is going to send a very negative message to Canada’s Muslim communities that our charity work is not welcome,” Khan said.

Though Trudeau said he could not comment on any specific cases, he did say there were ‘independent processes’ overseeing the investigation and that any final decision would be ‘based on fact and procedures’.

“We take very seriously the responsibility to both ensure charities are following the rules while at the same time recognizing there is discrimination within all systems, so we have to be very careful about the concerns the community is raising,” Trudeau said.

 

 

ICLMG representative Tim McSorley said HCI’s situation is a common one for charities who see their work disrupted by CRA audits, especially when they are based on weak or unsupported information.

“In the case of HCI, it’s been, I think, seven years that this has been ongoing for them and the last three years without any word from the CRA until suddenly they receive this decision,” McSorley said.

“And it causes deep financial costs. It disrupts the services that they can provide.”

The Ottawa Islamic Centre is another Muslim-led charity that lost its charitable status in May 2020 after an audit by the CRA determined mosque speakers had pursued “activities that promote hate and intolerance.”

“These were not ordinary audits,” said Dr. Anver Emon, director of the University of Toronto’s Institute of Islamic Studies (IIS) and co-author of Under Layered Suspicion‘, a report from the National Council of Canadian Muslims and ISS that examined the potential structural biases that influence the audits of Muslim-led charities.

“In the case of the Ottawa Islamic Centre, we show that the policy gets implemented by local agents and bureaucrats in ways that rest on biases and prejudices that uniquely securitize Islam and Muslims in ways that have a long and extensively documented unfortunate history.”

CRA agents said The Ottawa Islamic Centre hosted guest speakers with ‘extreme views,’ but NCCM chief operating officer Dr. Nadia Hassan pointed out several Christian charities led by people with homophobic and misogynistic views still have their charitable status.

“Without any evidence of what those guest speakers said at the mosque, the CRA really put the mosque through the ringer based on things that these individuals had said elsewhere a long time ago and somehow now the Ottawa mosque became accountable for those comments and remarks,” Hassan said.

In a statement to OMNI News, the CRA said it “does not select registered charities to audit based on any particular faith or denomination.” The governing body also said it does not track statistical data on auditing trends based on the denomination of faith-based charities.

To ensure organizations are not being targeted due to racial or religious prejudice, the ICLMG report urged the government to refer the issue to Canada’s security watchdog, the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency. The IIS report also recommended suspending discretionary use of revocation power in audits of Muslim-led charities where anti-terrorism financing or counter-radicalization policies inform the audit until current policies can be restructured.

With files from Mona Awwad