The federal government is set to introduce legislation that would strip charitable status from groups proven to be fund-raisers for international terrorist organizations.
Under proposed new laws, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) would notify the Solicitor General and Minister of Revenue if its investigation concludes that a charity registered under the federal Income Tax Act is in fact raising money for terrorists. CSIS will also be able to provide such information secretly -- "in the interests of national security" -- and once the ministers support its findings, the process of stripping an NGO of its tax- favorable charitable status would begin right away.
But civil libertarians and NGO leaders are raising legitimate concerns about the secrecy of a process that intends to withhold vital evidence from the accused.
"We fear that this new legislation may target some -- mainly Arab and Islamic -- charities more zealously than others," said Prof. Mohamed Elmasry, national president of the Canadian Islamic Congress. "Our fear is driven by the fact that CSIS relies so heavily on foreign intelligence agencies, including the American CIA and the Israeli MOSAD.
All of a sudden, some NGOs would be less equal than others in the eyes of the federal government."
An NGO exposed and stripped of its charitable status would have no right to hear the evidence against it, no right to defend itself, and no right of appeal in the case of a negative decision. And even if the group's charitable status is maintained or restored, its good name as a legitimate organization would be permanently smeared.
"For several reasons, Canadian Arab and Islamic charitable organizations are particularly vulnerable if the due process is not open or complete," Elmasry said.
"More than 40 per cent of the world's refugees, its needy and its desperately poor, are in Arab and Muslim countries," he added. "And in many of these countries, local political groups are involved in violent acts against violent political enemies...While it is not the business of Canadian charities to help foreign groups advance their political agendas, there are dire humanitarian needs overseas, and no Canadian should be prevented from alleviating them."
Elmasry pointed out that another cause for worry is the profiling technique that would be used by intelligence agencies in targeting charities suspected of channeling funds to terrorist groups. Due to habitual North American cultural stereotyping that often equates "Arab" and "Muslim" with "terrorist," Canadian charitable organizations operated by members of those communities could be disproportionally targeted for investigation.
"Canadian Arab and Islamic charities will definitely pay the highest price if a closed process is established with the power to revoke their special tax status," he warned. "A closed process would be easily 'hijacked' politically and that would be against fundamental Canadian values of fairness and natural justice."
Elmasry also noted that such anti-Islamic bias is already happening in the U.S. He cited a recent Washington Post editorial that admitted Arab Americans are bearing the brunt of anti- terrorism enforcement in that country and which said "it's hard not to sympathize with" their complaints.
But, he challenged, "If the proposed anti-terrorism bill becomes law here -- without the full guarantees offered by Canada's justice system -- who will then 'sympathize' with Arab and Muslim Canadians?"
________________________________ This report was re-published with permission from the Canadian Islamic Congress Friday Bulletin.