Liberals vowed to end charity status for ‘dishonest’ anti-abortion groups. They haven’t, The Tyee reports
The federal Liberal party’s 2021 campaign platform promised to no longer provide charity status to anti-abortion organizations “that provide dishonest counselling to women about their rights and about the options available to them at all stages of the pregnancy.”
However, Tyee reports that 10 months after re-election, despite repeated commitments to abortion rights in Canada, the government has refused to answer questions on whether there is a plan to implement this commitment, what groups could potentially lose charitable status and what would be the timeline for implementation. The lack of clarity has frustrated supporters, opponents and those supporting the charitable sector in Canada.
Despite the official silence, documents obtained by The Tyee and openDemocracy show that last fall there were extensive conversations among the Canada Revenue Agency, Health Canada and the Department of Finance about how to carry through on the promise. Redactions from those records, gained through an Access to Information and Privacy request, leave what was said largely in the dark.
Charitable status exempts organizations from paying income tax, allows charities to issue donation receipts to financial supporters and provides credibility.
The Liberal promise specifically names crisis pregnancy centres — organizations that counsel pregnant people against having an abortion — as one of the targets of this change. According to the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, there are 148 of these centres in Canada and more than 90 per cent have charty status.
“They engage in misinformation and deception,” said Joyce Arthur, the coalition’s executive director. While these groups are increasingly trying to pass for non-religious health-focused services, she said, “they don’t provide health care and if anything, they kind of distort the whole meaning of health in terms of trying to prevent people from accessing a health-care service.”
Now is the time to bolster abortion rights in Canada, Arthur said, pointing to the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade.
Revoking charitable tax status for deceptive anti-abortion groups, she said, will help in “reducing the impact that anti-choice groups have on undermining of our rights.”
Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights, previously Planned Parenthood Canada, calls crisis pregnancy centres “anti-abortion organizations disguised as clinics.” The charity calculates that there are more crisis pregnancy centres in Canada than abortion providers.
Advocates say there are many cases of crisis pregnancy centres deceiving pregnant people seeking health care to terminate their pregnancies. In 2019, for example, Global News reported the experience of Raquel, who unwittingly visited a crisis pregnancy centre in Langley, B.C., because its website said it provided “abortion support.” After stating she wanted an abortion, Raquel said staff suggested she listen to the fetal heartbeat. Staff guilted her for wanting to end her pregnancy and pushed for adoption, she said.
Conservative MP denies deception occurs
Cathay Wagantall, the Conservative MP for Yorkton-Melville, rejects the assertion that counselling at crisis pregnancy centres deceives women about their options. “I don’t think there’s a woman in Canada that isn’t aware of the fact that they can get an abortion,” said Wagantall.
She said critics haven’t seen the work done by the centres, which provide programming to enable young moms to get back to school, among other things. Losing charitable status could threaten the existence of many of these centres, she believes. “My concern is that they are limiting a woman’s avenues,” said Wagantall.
Six Conservative members of Parliament have presented petitions on the issue to the House of Commons since the start of the year. The nearly identical petitions state that crisis pregnancy centres save countless lives every year and that “revoking the charitable status of pro-life organizations will result in an explosion in the number of brutal abortions committed in Canada each year, slaughtering thousands of innocent babies.”
The petitions suggest the change would be a step toward the eradication of Christian values; petitioners call on members of Parliament to prevent any changes to the charitable status of pro-life organizations in Canada.
The potential change is also opposed by those who believe that the Liberals’ commitment politicizes the charitable sector in Canada.