Part of the Liberal party platform during the last election was a promise to remove charitable status from pregnancy care centres. Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland, and Minister for Women and Gender Equality and Youth, Marci Ien, have now been tasked to find a way to make this happen. We need to be prepared for this. This will potentially have a major impact not only on the good work pregnancy care centres do, but also all other pro-life, Christian charities such as churches and schools. More than just tax receipts are at stake.
Pregnancy Care Centres Help People
The move to revoke charitable status for pregnancy care centres is accompanied by a smear campaign by pro-abortion activist groups and politicians who make unsubstantiated claims that pregnancy care centres are dishonest to women. The Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada lists 138 pregnancy care centres as registered charities in Canada. Of those, Pregnancy Care Canada is affiliated with 81 centres across the country. Pregnancy Care Canada’s policy is that, before providing any services, they inform clients that the centre does not assist in arranging abortions.
What these centres do do is provide medically accurate information about abortion and parenting that has been externally reviewed by perinatal nurses, family physicians, obstetricians and gynaecologists, and medical ethicists. Quality and accuracy are very important to these centres. And in the past couple decades they’ve been able to serve almost 200,000 clients with material supplies such as diapers, formula, and clothing. They’ve aided tens of thousands of people who voluntarily reach out to them by phone, text, online, or in person.
It’s important to note that in both the Liberal election platform and the Minister mandate letters, the promise is to go after organizations “that provide dishonest counselling to pregnant women.” If this is indeed all they do, we have little to be concerned about, as pregnancy care centres don’t offer dishonest counselling.
Pregnancy care centres exist to help parents facing an unintended pregnancy, and women seek them out for help and support. But despite the good work they do, pregnancy care centres have been smeared because they do not support one specific choice: abortion. The question is, how would the government go after their charitable status?
Option #1: Charitable Purpose
There is no separate section of the Income Tax Act that allows pregnancy care centres to have charitable status. Rather, these centres fit under one of the existing definitions of charitable purpose in the Act. These purposes have long history in the English common law tradition. They include relief of poverty, religion, education, and a benefit to the community. Most pregnancy care centres fall under relief of poverty – appropriately so, as they provide material resources as well as support to their communities.
For obvious reasons, it seems very unlikely that the Minister will try to remove poverty relief as a charitable purpose in the Income Tax Act. Pregnancy care centres are already approved as organizations that relieve poverty so there is no easy way to amend the Act to change that. The CRA could review individual centres and determine whether they are still pursuing that objective, but there is no quick change to the type of charitable organizations allowed that would remove pregnancy care centres.
Option #2: An Attestation
In late 2017, the Liberal government added an attestation to their Canada Summer Jobs grant program. All those who applied for the grant had to attest that their organization’s mandate respected “reproductive rights,” which included abortion. It appeared that they were trying to block explicitly pro-life organizations from accessing the grant, but the impact went much further. After all, there are many churches, charities, and businesses who do not respect abortion. These organizations would not fill out the attestation and were denied the grant.
A Federal Court judge recently upheld the Canada Summer Jobs attestation as constitutional (although an appeal is pending). It is possible that the Liberal government could attempt to do something similar for charitable organizations.
If it were possible for the government to write an attestation that would only exclude pregnancy care centres, this seems like a very likely path. But such an attestation would run the risk of the same unintended consequences of the Canada Summer Jobs grant. It is unlikely they can write an attestation narrow enough that it does not include any other organization that holds pro-life beliefs. It’s one thing for a church not to get funding for their summer camp through the Canada Summer Jobs program. It is a much graver issue for a church to lose their charitable status altogether.
What Losing Charitable Status Means
We often think of charitable status as meaning that an organization can give tax receipts to donors. While it would be a disadvantage to pro-life groups to lose this ability, the organization would theoretically be able to continue as a non-profit, which is also funded by donations but cannot issue tax receipts.
The problem is that charities have a lot more to lose than the ability to give tax receipts. An organization can’t just go from being a charity to being a non-profit. If an organization loses its charitable status, it must transfer all its assets to another registered charity or pay a revocation tax equal to the value of the assets. This means that if a pro-life charity loses their charitable status, anything in their bank account, any building or equipment they own, all of that must be given away to another registered charity.
This is serious enough for 138 pregnancy care centres that will no longer be able to use the assets they have to serve families. But if the Liberals arrive at an overbroad solution, like they did with the Canada Summer Jobs attestation, this could have broad sweeping implications for Christian charities and churches across the country.
I don’t know what Ministers Freeland and Ien will do with their mandate to remove charitable status from pregnancy care centres. It could be that they decide these centres do not offer any dishonest counseling and nothing comes of it. It could be that they arrive at a solution I haven’t yet considered. But we need to grapple with the potential gravity of this situation. We need to stand up for our pregnancy care centres for the good that they do, and work to protect other pro-life charities and their resources.
How can we do that? Start by getting in touch with your local pregnancy care centre. Make yourself aware of the good work they do. Ask if they’ve contacted their local MP – they can offer to meet with them or give them a tour. You can also contact your MP directly. If you have a personal story involving your local pregnancy care centre, share it. Talk about the good work they do in your community. Ensure that when the topic comes up, what comes to the mind of our MPs is an accurate picture of community benefit rather than the mischaracterizations peddled by pro-abortion activists.
As a pro-life movement, we are dedicated to ensuring that those facing unintended pregnancies have support and are not pushed into an unwanted abortion by their circumstances. That work will happen no matter what. But let’s make sure that we are effectively advocating for pregnancy care centres, and for the continued freedom to hold pro-life beliefs without penalty in this country.