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Canadian Mennonite warned of political activities

By Carl DeGurse
Nov 07, 2012 | Volume 16, Number 22

A federal government agency has warned Canadian Mennonite about publishing material that could rally its readers to oppose specific politicians and political parties. A letter to the magazine from Canada Revenue says: “It has come to our attention that recent issues . . . have contained editorials and/or articles that appear to promote opposition to a political party, or to candidates for public office.”

The letter from Paul E. Fournier, office audit officer, reminded the magazine of “the limitations imposed on registered charities regarding partisan activities,” citing subsections under the Income Tax Act and its Regulations that speak to rules around “political advocacy.”

“Under the Act, charities are allowed to engage in some political activities, but are prohibited from engaging in partisan political activities.”

Although the registered letter was delivered July 23, the decision to report its contents to Canadian Mennonite readers was delayed until the matter was discussed at the semi-annual meeting of the magazine board’s executive on Oct. 13.

No specific editorials or articles were cited in the letter, and Dick Benner, Canadian Mennonite editor and publisher, said he phoned Fournier and asked for specific citations. Four days later, in a second conversation with Benner, Fournier cited two editorials and four articles appearing in the Young Voices section of the paper:

An editorial by Benner called readers to “Vote your Core Beliefs” (April 18, 2011). “While we won’t endorse candidates of the five political parties in the upcoming election, or tell you how to vote, we do ask you as Mennonite voters to both examine the political views and voting records of candidates regarding our deeply held core beliefs in peace-making, compassion for the poor and care for creation before placing your ballot in the ballot box.”

In another editorial, titled “A Political Lament” (May 16, 2011), Benner wrote that he was “intrigued and saddened by two political events of the past ten days in two North American countries—the take-out of Osama bin Laden by the U.S. military and the take-over by a militaristic Conservative majority government in Monday’s election in Canada.”

The Young Voices articles cited were entitled “Political Issues for a young electorate,” (Oct. 3, 2011) by Aaron Epp, “Jack Layton inspires young people to vote for change,” (Sept. 19, 2011) by Rachel Bergen, “Planes for Peace,” (Aug. 1, 2011) by Emily Loewen, and “MCC calls on feds to seriously rethink Bill C-10,” (Nov. 14, 2011) by Rachel Bergen.

The section of the Income Tax Act to which Fournier refers says, in part, that a registered charity “devotes substantially all of its resources to charitable purposes,” but that it can “devote part of its resources to political activities—up to 10 per cent,” but that these activities are “ancillary and incidental to its charitable purposes” and “do not include direct or indirect support of or opposition to any political party or candidate for public office.”

Benner said he explained to Fournier that the cited editorials and articles were not partisan in nature and were not advocating specifics, but rather were done “as statements of the Mennonite core belief” in non-violence and objection to war as a solution for political conflict—core beliefs that are deeply held by our people over our 500-year history.”

But, in a written response to the “reminder,” Benner reassured the CRA audit officer that “it is our intent to obey the law and to operate within the guidelines set forth in these documents despite some differences we may have in their interpretation.”

Revenue Canada has a relationship with Canadian Mennonite because the agency governs the charitable status that lets individual donors to Canadian Mennonite get tax credit for their financial gifts. It is also important in maintaining such status with its publishing partners, namely the area churches and Mennonite Church Canada, which funds 44 per cent of the magazine’s budget through an Every Home Plan that subsidizes subscriptions.

The editor consulted the executive committee of the 12-member board of Canadian Mennonite which, after discussing the issue in a meeting in Winnipeg in October, moved to “support the editor’s desire to make our readers aware of the CRA auditor’s recent reminder letter about the law regarding political advocacy and how that letter has affected the publication.”

Benner has also been consulting others in what he calls a “leadership circle,” including representatives of Mennonite Church Canada, Mennonite Central Committee (Ottawa and Winnipeg) and legal representatives knowledgeable of the CRA tax laws.

Carl DeGurse is vice-chair of the Board of Directors of Canadian Mennonite.


Comments

I am a believer in God but no one religion. Christ from all I know wascaled" The Prince of Peace" by trying to get people to vote against candidates who are for armed intervention is simply complying with the ideals of Christianity.
The ways in which you practice you religion, with the exception of those which may cause harm to others, are covered by the Charter of Rights and freedoms. Thank you

Having lived in Ethiopia for 4 years under a government that causes our Ethiopian friends to be very careful what they say (politically and even religiously), I thought I was returning to a land of free speech. And there is still free speech in Canada. But this report tells me that this current government would like to change this. I am appalled at this interference. I support Mr. Benner and the CM 100%!

I would much rather the Canadian Mennonite be allowed to express our core beliefs than accept a tax receipt for my support.
John Coffman

In the interest of self interest, perhaps we should be encouraging all Mennonite pastors to submit their sermons to Stephen Harper to avoid "false or subversive" teaching resulting in loss of charitable status for the body of Christ!

I applaud Minister toews on his stance on Age of Consent. I also agree that partisan "free speech" should not be subsidized.

Sincerely,

Jayne (Punky) Russell

This afternoon I was informed of the letter from Mr. Fournier to the Canadian Mennonite by my daughter Rachel, Young Voices co-editor.

I reviewed the article and information on the Canadian Mennonite website.

I am deeply offended by the government’s comments to the Canadian Mennonite.

Rachel’s sixth great grandfather was elder Isaac Dyck who introduced the idea of alternative service to Tsar Nicholas in a garden in Saint Petersburg with the question, ‘can a loyal subject of Russia serve the crown without going to war.’ Forestry and medical service was introduced as alternative service.

Her other Dyck great grand parents came to Canada in the 1920’s from Ukraine when the totalitarian government of Josef Stalin declared them surplus population and of no value to the great Soviet Socialist Utopian Experiment. The progressive policies of the CP and the leadership of Colonel J. S. Dennis allowed unwanted Mennonites to come to Canada on credit. That credit was repayed in full with interest.

Her great grandfather Bergen was murdered by the state in what has been termed the Great Terror under Josef Stalin. Her great grand father Redekop served 9 months in prison for charges that were proven false three times before he was freed. In that day, there was no free press that could expose injustice and plead for the cause of innocents. Of the 614 people who fled Nieder Chortitza in 1943, 33 crossed the border into Maastricht Holland and were granted political asylum by Queen Wilhelmena, who was given harbor and safety in Canada when Holland was invaded by Nazi Germany.

My mother has recounted that, as a child living in Ukraine, she thought of Niverville MB as “heaven’ because her uncle could leave fresh milk at the end of the lane and people came and left you money and it was not stolen.

In 1995-96, I placed my life in jeopardy so that as a Christian, I could work with Moslems in the Red Crescent Society of Ingushetia along with a British Quaker and a Belgian evangelical. Together, we worked to alleviate suffering without regard to race or creed believing that ‘a hungry child has no politics.’

All this to show you, that our family is keenly aware of the value of human and civic rights, rights guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We love Canada as a country for the opportunities and freedom it guarantees all citizens.

Rachel at the tender age of eight, while we lived and worked in the Former Soviet Union had a friend, a Somali refugee severely beaten by Russian police. They were trying to extract a bribe. She was furious at the injustice.

At the age of 15 she had the opportunity to stand, in NY, at the Wall Street Journal offices, before a plaque commemorating Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal writer who was murdered by extremists for being Jewish even as he sought to understand and articulate the reason for their animus against America. She was inspired.

For our government to cite an article written by Rachel, that honored Jack Layton’s life of public service and inspired young people as a reason for concern is sheer balderdash. Rachel will tell you that I disagreed with Mr. Layton’s politics, but I never doubted his love of Canada and his commitment to building a better community in our Confederation. We only disagreed on the means to that end. For Mr. Fournier to cite that article is churlish and dishonors the legacy of a patriotic Canadian. It is offensive.

Our Charter of Rights and Freedoms empowers us with rights, and expects us as citizens to act responsibly in the exercising of those rights. Rachel the journalist has done that. Any infringement of those rights upon the journalist Rachel, is a diminishment of the rights of all citizens of this country.

Therefore, this partisan and unwarranted diminishment of the rights of one must be resisted for the sake of all. Just as our core religious beliefs are non-negotiable, so too is the exercise of our Charter Rights and Freedoms . The right to hold convictions at variance with the government of the day is a right guaranteed by the foundational law of our land. And to do so is not disloyal to the aspirations of our Confederation.

Our family has a living memory of what it means to be subjected to arbitrary exercise of authority by a totalitarian state. Our church communion is made up of various ethnicities that have fled totalitarian states. We have come to this country believing the risk and sacrifice of leaving injustice is worth the prize of being a citizen of Canada, not a subject of Canada.

This letter must be withdrawn. A line has been crossed. There are principles at stake here for which men and women have sacrificed their lives for, that we might live in a society where the free exchange of opinions and convictions is not threatened by violence from fellow citizens or unwarranted interference from the state.

I urge every Canadian Mennonite reader, who is a member of a church, and participated in the previous election to contact their church council chair and pastor, and through them make representations to your member of parliament, whatever their political affiliation, that this interference by the state with the Canadian Mennonite cannot be tolerated and must be challenged.

Walter Bergen, Chilliwack, BC

Hi,
The platdeutsch term, for what the British would call Pollyanaisms, is explored in Arnold Dyck's Forestei play. It is a way of retaining a peace witness even when provoked to anger or vengeance. It was a way for Russian Mennonites in the days of the Tsar to avoid conscription. Truth without oath was fundamental.
J A Neufeld, Winnipeg

Since Mennonites historically consider the Sermon on the Mount as embodying their core values, perhaps this government would also have a problem with that document.

Since Mennonites historically have held the Sermon on the Mount as embodying their core values, perhaps this government would have difficulties with that document also.

"The faithful church does not rise up in righteous indignation when its own liberty or well-being is threatened; it expects this to happen--it is 'not surprised at the fiery ordeal' (1 Peter 4:12). But when the powerless are victimized--whether this means powerless people or powerless creatures of any sort, and whether this means physical victimization or more subtle types of oppression--then the faithful church resists. And not infrequently it is precisely the state that it must resist."

- Douglas John Hall, Confessing the Faith, 133.

Take heart: this is a sign of the effectiveness and faithfulness of your ministry.

Jeffrey Metcalfe

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