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More than 130 groups call on Canada to stop 'prejudiced audits' of Muslim charities

Open letter calls on government to issue 'immediate moratorium' on audits aimed at Muslim charities, alleging bias and racial prejudice
Members of the Muslim community and supporters gather for a multi-faith "March to End Hatred" on 11 June 2021 in London, Ontario, Canada.
Members of the Muslim community and supporters gather for a multi-faith "March to End Hatred" on 11 June 2021 in London, Ontario, Canada (AFP)

More than 130 civil society groups, charities and Muslim organisations in Canada have have signed a letter urging Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and members of his cabinet to probe what they call unfair tax audits that target and remove the status of Muslim charities.

The letter, sent by groups including the National Council of Canadian Muslims, the Edmonton Islamic Centre, the London Muslim Mosque and others, calls on the Canadian government to issue a review of the Canada Revenue Agency's (CRA) processes in auditing charitable organisations in the country to ensure there is no bias or racial prejudice.

"Targeting Muslim charities on the basis of terrorist financing suspicions simply because of the religion they uphold is Islamophobic and prejudiced," the letter read.

"Not only are Muslim organizations being targeted by the government with questionable and unfounded allegations of promoting radicalization, the process of an audit, and possible revocation, creates a chilling effect that can cripple the Canadian Muslim charitable community."

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Dismantling this prejudice is the first step in fighting against hate, the letter said.

It also called for an "immediate moratorium" on all audits targeting Muslim charities until a review is completed.

A recently released report from the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group said the CRA worked with national security agencies to carry out audits that unfairly target Muslim charities with little accountability.

The study reported that from 2008 to 2015, 75 percent of the organisations whose charitable status was revoked following audits were Muslim charities. At least another four charities have had their status pulled since then.

The report also said that despite the revocations, none of the Muslim charitable agencies or associated individuals had been charged with a terrorist-financing crime.

When organisations lose their charitable status, donors can no longer claim the funds as a tax deduction, causing a drop in contributions.

In May 2020, the Ottawa Islamic Centre had its charitable status revoked by the CRA because it said mosque speakers had pursued "activities that promote hate and intolerance".

'Violation of fundamental rights'

Jeremy Bellefeuille, acting communications director at the revenue ministry, told Middle East Eye that the federal revenue agency was at arm's-length from the office of the Revenue Minister and did not "instruct the CRA to begin audits, nor do they intervene in audits under way".

“Our government continues to work to end discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and disability," Bellefeuille said.

"The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) does not select registered charities for audit based on any particular faith or denomination."

The letter comes amid a national conversation in Canada around the issue of Islamophobia, after four members of a Muslim family were run down and killed by a man driving a pick-up truck, in what police described as an act fuelled by hate.

Earlier this week, police reported another "hate-fuelled act" in which a man attacked two young hijab-wearing women, leaving one unconcious and holding another at knife-point.

At a vigil following the killing of the Muslim family, Trudeau said that "Islamophobia is real. Racism is real. You should not have to face that hate in your communities, in your country". 

"Action on this is urgent and crucial. It is imperative to address and undo systemic racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia in Canada's pursuit of 'national security'," the letter read.

"The profiling and targeting of the Muslim community is, in and of itself, deeply damaging and a violation of fundamental rights."