Charitable institutions are usually seen as good things in society. Ones we normally think of – the Red Cross, Amnesty International, the Canadian Cancer Society, etc. – play a very important role in raising money and spending it on the most needy: people suffering in war zones, prisoners of conscience, those suffering from serious disease. These organisations are necessary and deserve our support.
Many faith institutions also receive charitable status, at least in Canada. For some this makes sense as ‘people of the cloth’ are generally seen as good people who serve society at large (there are exceptions of course as the many child abuse scandals in the Catholic Church have shown). Charitable status has some pretty good tax implications too. In Canada, a registered charity does not have to pay income tax and can issue tax receipts to donors.
The Canada Revenue Agency makes sure that the right organisations get this status. According to its Web site “Canadians donate generously every year to charities, and the Government of Canada wants to assure them that only qualifying organizations are registered and are given these privileges. “ Part of the process involves an investigation into the applicant as well as regular audits to make sure all is above board and does not stray from the original purpose.
So what happens when an institution, in this case a mosque, has its status revoked? This is exactly what happened recently to the Assalam Mosque in Ottawa when the CRA ruled that the institution “allowed its resources to be used for activities that promote hate and intolerance,” causing it to fail the CRA’s public benefit test. As Global News’ reporter Stewart Bell first reported, the mosque issued invitations to at least four men who are known to have delivered speeches in which hate and intolerance were clearly expressed (they called for gays to be thrown off buildings and made heavily anti-Semitic remarks). It is also noteworthy that an Ottawa man now in prison for trying to join Islamic State also attended that mosque. CRA said it raised the invitations to the hate preachers on several occasions but that the mosque failed to do “due diligence”.
With all that there certainly is a lot of smoke. But is there any fire? Two things must be pointed out. First, the speeches delivered by the hate preachers and cited by CRA all occurred outside Canada: there is no indication that they did so at the Assalam Mosque (although absence of evidence is not evidence of absence). Secondly even if Ashton Larmond did attend that particular mosque it does not necessarily imply that he was radicalised there (although that too is possible).
What we are left with is clear evidence that hate preachers with a definite history of extremist speech were invited to lecture at the mosque – at least in publicly available information. We also know that CSIS paid a visit or two to inform the leadership of its concerns, as is 100% within its right and mandate to do. But we have no public record of hate at the mosque, although the board of directors had to oust two members they themselves described as having “extremist and biased views”. One more item: the invitations to the problematic imams were made several years ago. Curious minds want to know: why revoke the status now?
I would like to think that CRA takes its job seriously and does not remove charitable designation unnecessarily. They almost assuredly did their homework and I imagine that investigations of this nature take a long time (hence the lag). I cannot help but think that intelligence, perhaps collected and shared by CSIS, may have been taken into consideration as well.
I thus have to conclude that the decision taken was the correct one. Mosque leadership and local Muslims clearly think otherwise. On the balance of probabilities, the Assalam Mosque was engaged in activity inconsistent with its function and may have provided an atmosphere conducive to radicalisation. The blame for all this lies with those in charge of the mosque, not the CRA.