By Sarah Mushtaq
In recent years, the Canada Revenue Agency’s (CRA) review and analysis division (RAD) has been accused of disproportionately targeting Muslim charities for audits, and many Canadian Muslims have raised concerns that this is due to Islamophobia within the CRA itself.
In response to these concerns, Taxpayers’ Ombudsperson François Boileau launched a review of the RAD’s audit practices in August 2021. However, the ombudsperson’s review, released at the end of last month, failed to acknowledge any prejudice at all.
The ombudsperson blamed access to information, legislative roadblocks and a lack of co-operation from the CRA as the key reasons for not conducting a comprehensive examination and not validating the allegations made by the Muslim community.
On March 27, the same day as Boileau released his report, two prominent Canadian lawyers released the findings of their own research.
In their report, Faisal Kutty, an associate professor at Southwestern Law School, and Faisal Bhabha, an associate professor at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School, demonstrate that the CRA repeatedly relied upon biased opinions from terrorism experts, reports from right-wing think-tanks and distorted facts from Islamophobic media coverage to substantiate their allegations of possible terrorism financing levelled against Muslim charities.
With a year and a half to conduct his investigation and an office of investigators to support this endeavour, it begs the question: how did Boileau miss so much? Did the ombudsperson study CRA documents that are a matter of public record? Did he engage experts who understand Islamophobia and could identify its existence in audit documents?
Let’s not forget that the ombudsperson’s review was conducted in response to concerns raised by Muslim charities about the discriminatory treatment they had received from RAD. These concerns include allegations that Muslim charities were being unfairly targeted and subjected to more rigorous audits than other charities, creating issues not only for the charities themselves, but also for unsuspecting and well-intentioned donors.
Despite these significant concerns, the ombudsperson’s review did not mention Islamophobia a single time in its analysis or conclusions. RAD’s discrimination and prejudice not only harms Canadian charities, donors and beneficiaries, it also undermines the legitimacy of the CRA and the tax system as a whole.
The ombudsperson’s review is a missed opportunity to address this issue. While the review did make some important recommendations, such as calling for greater transparency and accountability in the RAD’s audit practices and the need for unconscious bias training, it failed to even remotely address the root cause of the problem: systemic Islamophobia.
Muslim organizations have criticized the review for its failure to address the issue at hand and no longer want government reviews. The National Council of Canadian Muslims stated that, “We reject the notion of waiting for yet another review to tell us what we already know.… It is unfair to continue to subject Muslim-led charities to unfair audit practises in the interim,” and called for the suspension of RAD.
A group of prominent Muslim organizations also criticized the review for failing to address alleged Islamophobia, stating: “Sadly, the ombudsperson report is unsatisfactory and neither gives insight into the underlying reasons of Islamophobia nor proposes solutions. It reveals that the government is not serious about addressing concerns of the Muslim community, despite the prime minister’s commitment in the 2021 Islamophobia Summit.”
The International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group and the Canadian Muslim Public Affairs Council have also demanded that the Government of Canada take immediate action by suspending RAD and placing a moratorium on audits of all Muslim-led charities.
The failure of the taxpayers’ ombudsperson to identify any semblance of Islamophobia in CRA audits of Muslim charities has left many questioning the effectiveness of the office. While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has publicly condemned Islamophobia and committed to tackling this issue, the actions taken by this government have not always matched his words.
In the case of the RAD’s audits of Muslim charities, the federal government has failed to take concrete action with the CRA, despite the serious concerns raised by Canadian Muslims, Muslim charities and other advocacy groups. This failure to take decisive action has left many in the Muslim community feeling frustrated and disillusioned. Much more action is needed to address the systemic Islamophobia that exists within the CRA.
Sarah Mushtaq is a board member of the Canadian Muslim Public Affairs Council, a community advocate, a writer and a regular media commentator.