OTTAWA — Taxpayers’ ombudsperson François Boileau will investigate the concerns of Muslim charities and other charities led by people of colour about being inappropriately targeted for audits.
Boileau said Friday he is committing to examining the issues raised by the charities and he will work with these organizations to make sure they receive high-quality services from the Canada Revenue Agency.
"Before we take action, we need to take the time to listen and deepen our knowledge of the issues,” he said in a release.
His office will ask the charities to share their experiences with the agency and will examine all the publicly available documentation and information obtained from the agency related to the issue.
The ombudsperson will also examine the revenue agency's efforts to root out discrimination.
Boileau will provide National Revenue Minister Diane Lebouthillier with an update on his investigation by Jan. 1, 2022.
Tim McSorley, the national co-ordinator of the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group, said the treatment of Muslim charities is a government-wide issue, but it has implications when it comes to the revenue agency and how it audits and sanctions these groups.
"We have offered to discuss our research and provide any support as needed to the Office of the Taxpayers' Ombudsperson for its review of this issue, and we look forward to seeing the results," McSorley said in an emailed statement.
McSorley said the ombudsperson should examine the concerns of Muslim charities with "a systemic review in order to examine the underlying issues that have led to these prejudiced audits."
He said the review should be transparent and the office of the ombudsperson should get access to all the needed information and documents.
"The review (should) examine the issues in full, including surveillance of the sector, the selection process for audits, how audits are carried out, how sanctions are determined, and how the CRA – particularly the Review and Analysis Division – works with other government departments, especially national security and intelligence agencies," McSorley said.
He also said the ombudsperson should review how Canada's anti-terrorism and anti-radicalization policies have impacted the treatment of Muslim charities by the revenue agency.
"These policies are at the heart of the problem. They are the drivers behind the prejudiced auditing of Muslim charities, and must be a key part of this review," he said.
"Our one primary concern is that the ombudsperson's mandate may be too narrow to examine this system in its entirety."
Almost 100 Muslim organizations and civil society groups sent a letter last month to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau calling on him to reform the Canada Revenue Agency’s practices for auditing that they argue unfairly target Muslim charities.
The groups also asked the government to overturn a recent CRA decision to suspend the ability of Ottawa-based Human Concern International, a long-established Muslim charity, to issue tax receipts.
Lebouthillier, during a national summit on Islamophobia last month, committed to ask the taxpayers' ombudsperson for a systemic review to address the concerns of the Muslim community regarding targeting of charities.
The minister also promised to appoint a member of the Muslim community to an advisory committee on the charitable sector.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 6, 2021.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Maan Alhmidi, The Canadian Press