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Harper supporters avoiding special tax scrutiny: Broadbent Institute

David Akin / QMI Agency

OTTAWA — A left-leaning think-tank says right-leaning charities haven't been subjected to the same scrutiny of their political activities as have opponents of the Stephen Harper government.

The Broadbent Institute, an Ottawa-based group named in honour of former NDP leader Ed Broadbent, says its study findings support the contention made by some that the Canada Revenue Agency is singling out charities whose work is at odds with the federal Conservatives.

"We know charities that have been critical of policies of the Harper government are being audited by the Canada Revenue Agency. With mounting evidence suggesting bias in auditing decisions, we need to find out what's going on here," executive director Rick Smith said in a statement.

Kerry-Lynne Findlay, the minister responsible for the CRA, told the House of Commons Tuesday there is no such bias.

Calling the CRA "transparent" on the issue, Findlay read from a memo sent by the top bureaucrat at the CRA to all the departments employees that indicated audits are "not subject to political direction."

The Broadbent Institute, which is not a charity, says CRA is auditing 52 charities.

The group reviewed tax filings of 10 right-leaning charities, including the Fraser Institute, the Montreal Economic Institute, and Focus on the Family, and found that in each of the past three tax years, none of them declared spending anything on political activity. Some of those charities have declined to say if they're being audited but some on the list say they haven't been.

Meanwhile, groups that have been sharply critical of the Conservatives, such as the David Suzuki Foundation and Environmental Defence, have declared spending hundreds of thousands on political activity and both those groups have been audited.

The Broadbent Institute wants an independent inquiry to look at how CRA decides which charity it audits for political activity.

"Political activity is a critical part of many charities' work," Smith said. "Progressive or conservative, blunting the ability of civil society to advocate and to engage in debate and, occasionally, dissent should concern us all."