Canadian Government vs. Ottawa Think Tank – a Battle of Bias

Posted by Stephanie Mau

on September 15, 2014

Classic Case of They Said, They Said

government of canada logoLast year, the Canada Revenue Agency began auditing an Ottawa-based think tank, accusing the company of being “biased and one-sided.” Now, more than 400 academics are demanding they put a stop to their audit, accusing them of being unethical and biased in their targeting of said think tank.

Awkward.

When the CRA first initiated its audit into the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, they drew up an internal document that outlined their reasons for the audit. Mainly, they claimed that the research and education material on their website was biased and warranted a political-activity audit starting in October of last year.

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (let’s call it CCPA for short) is only one of 52 charities that are currently under investigation by the CRA, as part of a $13.4 million program that was launched in 2012. This investigation is looking to determine whether any of them are violating a rule that limits charities to only spending 10% of their resources on political activities.

In the first round of these audits, many of the companies surveyed were environmental organizations that had been critical of the Conservative government’s policies on energy and the pipeline. In subsequent rounds, the agency widened their search to charity groups that focused on poverty, international aid, and human rights – however, these groups had also had a history of criticizing Conservative policy.

As a result, some groups have had to self-censor in order to avoid becoming the next target of these allegedly biased audits – a phenomenon that’s being referred to as “advocacy chill.”

An Open Letter to the Government

Now, 421 academics have stepped forward and are accusing the government of auditing the CCPA purely out of political motivations; to “intimidate and silence their criticisms of government policies.”

The academics claim that the centre is well-respected all over the world, and is known to conduct its research in a “fair and unbiased way.” Their stance also extends to the agency’s audit program as a whole – they want the government to put a stop to all of their political-activity audits until the agency figures out a more neutral and fair process of selecting groups to audit.

Right now, it’s hard to say who’s right and who’s wrong.

If the think-tank actually was using an unfair amount of their resources on politically biased research, that would be unethical. If the government truly was singling out their critics for audits that wasted taxpayer money, that would be unethical. Until we have further details on this investigation, it’s all a bit of a moral grey area.

Government agencies are responsible for managing and monitoring the disbursement of billions of dollars of public funds. Demands for transparency and accountability have been the highlighted focal point during increased negative media exposure.

It’s vital for government, local and federal, to take proactive measures to combat fraud and misuse of funds while supporting positive public perception.

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Source: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/academics-calls-for-moratorium-on-cra-political-audit-of-think-tank/article20593498/