Many of our clients operate or are involved in the administration of charitable entities, registered with the Charities Directorate of Canada Revenue Agency.  From time to time, we update our clients and those involved in the operation and governance of registered charities, on new developments and administrative practices. This article will review some of the hot topics in current charities law and practice.

Charitable Activities

The Income Tax Act (Canada) allows a registered charity to use its resources (funds, personnel, and property) inside or outside Canada in two ways:

(a)  on its own charitable activities; and,

(b)  on making gifts to qualified donees

On its Own Charitable Activities

A charity can carry on its own charitable activities through its staff, including volunteers, directors, and employees, or through an intermediary (for example, a consultant or contractor) acting on its behalf. Whether it works through its own staff or through an intermediary, a charity must direct and control the use of its resources, although it may delegate day-to-day decisions to its intermediary.

Working Through Intermediaries

When a charity transfers resources to an intermediary to carry on an activity, the charity must direct and control how the resources are used. This means the charity must make decisions and set parameters on significant issues and it must maintain books and records to show this.

For more information on working with intermediaries, see Guidance CG-002, Canadian registered charities carrying on activities outside Canada and Guidance CG-004, Using an intermediary to carry on a charity’s activities within Canada.

Our lawyers have set up and regularly advise Canadian registered charities on carrying on activities within and outside of Canada.

On Making Gifts to Qualified Donees

In addition to carrying on its own activities, a charity can make gifts to qualified donees (usually other registered charities). For more information on working with qualified donees, see Guidance CG-010, Qualified donees.

In this circumstance, it is prudent to verify that the “qualified donee” is a “registered charity”. To verify that an organization is a registered charity, use the “Search” feature on the List of charities web page.

Public Policy Dialogue and Development Activities

Charitable activities include public policy dialogue and development activities (“PPDDA”) that further a charity’s stated charitable purposes. PPDDAs generally involve seeking to influence the laws, policies, or decision of a government, whether in Canada or a foreign country.

As long as a charity’s PPDDAs are carried on in furtherance of its stated charitable purposes, the Income Tax Act places no limits on the amount of PPDDAs a charity can engage in.

Having said that, for further detail on PPDDA, see Guidance CG-027, Public policy dialogue and development activities.

Although beyond the scope of this article, it is important to note that PPDDA may also require compliance and registration with Elections Canada, if the registered charity carries on PPDDA activities during an election period. This may include compliance with the Election Act (Canada), as well as with various provincial legislation, and in certain circumstances, my require the registered charity to register as a lobbyist.

Political Activity

As noted, the Income Tax Act (Canada) allows registered charities to fully engage in public policy dialogue and development activities that further their stated charitable purposes and provide a public benefit.

However, the Income Tax Act (Canada) prohibits registered charities from devoting any part of their resources to the direct or indirect support of, or opposition to, any political party or candidate for public office (again, see Guidance CG-027, Public policy dialogue and development activities by charities).

It is important to note, that these Income Tax Act (Canada) measures apply to registered charities at all times.

Canada Elections Act

Election advertising is a regulated activity under the Elections Act (Canada).

Election advertising is an advertisement transmitted during an election period that promotes or opposes a registered party or candidate, including by taking a position on an issue clearly associated with a registered party or candidate. The election period starts on the day the election is called, and it ends when the polls close on election day.

Registered charities or other organizations that spend $500 or more on election advertising during an election period must register as third parties with Elections Canada. Third parties under the Elections Act (Canada) are subject to spending limits and reporting requirements.

Income Tax Act and Registering as a Third Party

Under the Income Tax Act (Canada), registered charities may carry out election advertising activities that focuses on policy issues associated with a political party or candidate, as long as they do not explicitly support or oppose the political party or candidate.

The Charities Directorate of Canada Revenue Agency has recently confirmed that registered charities will not put their charitable status at risk, merely by registering as third parties with Elections Canada.


In conclusion, and always being mindful of your charities’ charitable objectives, there are important issues arising when working through intermediaries, ensuring the status of qualified donees and engaging in public policy dialogue and development activities. For advice on how to navigate these issues, or to get further direction on matters involving political activity and / or compliance with the obligations of the Elections Act (Canada), our lawyers would be happy to assist you in navigating the various Federal and Provincial legislation.

If you have any questions or would like advice related to registered charities and charitable activities, or if you have questions in relation to matters of real estate, corporate law, intellectual property and trust matters, please contact us at 604-688-4900 or by email to Paul Barbeau at or to Morgan Best at