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Oxfam in Canada was told that it isn't allowed prevent poverty anymore

The Canadian revenue authority say that doing so would benefit people who are not already poor.

Image: Nick Ansell

ONE OF THE world’s best-known charities has been told to stop trying to achieve one of its aims – preventing poverty.

Oxfam has been told by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) that it can no longer try to prevent poverty – because doing so would benefit people who are not already poor.

The argument comes after Oxfam filed for a renewal of its not profit status. In their submission to Industry Canada, the body which oversees the non-profit sector, Oxfam said that their purpose was to “to prevent and relieve poverty, vulnerability and suffering by improving the conditions of individuals whose lives, livelihood, security or well-being are at risk.”

Once the mission statement was signed off with Industry Canada, it had to be cleared with the charities board of CRA.

Agency officials then told Oxfam that preventing poverty, as opposed to helping those already in poverty, was not an acceptable goal for a charity to have.

“Relieving poverty is charitable, preventing it is not.

“Preventing poverty could mean providing for a class of beneficiaries that are not poor.”

Oxfam

The charity spends around $CA32 million a year on work in Africa, Asia and South America and their executive director Robert Fox said the whole conversation was “absurd”.

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A spokesperson for Oxfam Canada told TheJournal.ie that they continue to work to eliminate poverty.

“First of all, let me reassure the public that Oxfam Canada continues to be a registered charity in full compliance with all laws and regulations. All eligible donations (including the many new ones that came in today) will receive the usual tax-deductible receipts. And those funds will continue to be applied to the important work that Oxfam does around the world.

“Indeed, earlier today we transferred $100,000 of donated funds to the Oxfam program in Syria where we continue to provide life-saving humanitarian supplies to tens of thousands of refugees.

“Secondly, it is important to note that after receiving the request to modify our statement of objects, Oxfam Canada complied with that request.

“When it comes to the elimination of poverty, Oxfam believes that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. But the CRA legislation speaks only of “poverty relief” and we have adapted our objects as per the CRA interpretation.

“Thirdly, a number of other Canadian NGOs have been notified that they are to undergo audits of their political activities. Despite the reports of some media sources, Oxfam is not one of those NGOs. Oxfam Canada reports fully on our political activities every year to CRA as required, and we believe we are in full compliance with the related rules and regulations.”

A spokesperson for the CRA told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) that legal precedent disbarred charities from helping those who were not already poor.

“Purposes that relieve poverty are charitable because they provide relief only to eligible beneficiaries, those in need.

“However, the courts have not found the risk of poverty as being equivalent to actually being in need. Therefore, as the courts have indicated, an organization cannot be registered with the explicit purpose of preventing poverty.”

Oxfam has a history of run-ins with Canada’s conservative government. Earlier this year, Employment Minister criticised the group for their opposition to Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

Last year, Oxfam co-signed a letter criticising Prime Minister Stephen Harper after reports that government officials had made “enemies lists” for new ministers after a reshuffle.

They say that despite having to drop the wording from their mission statement, Oxfam is still committed to their work.

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