My birthday is this month and in lieu of gifts this year, I’ve decided to do a fundraiser on behalf of Mercy for Animals (MFA). There used to be a branch of MFA in Canada but it was rolled in with the U.S. last year, where MFA’s headquarters are. Ordinarily I’d prefer to give to an organization specific to the country I reside in but MFA is still a presence in Canada, in much the same way People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is: they do not physically have an office here but they work closely with activists and other organizations who can still represent them.
One of the first things I learned when I went vegan in 2013 was that many animal rights organizations do not issue tax receipts for donations made here in Canada. I didn’t think much of it at the time since I’ve never found charitable receipts to make much difference on my tax return and it’s not the reason I donate anyway. It wasn’t until I tried to find a job working for an animal rights organization in Canada that I discovered this was the case for almost all of them, unless the organization focused strictly on rescuing and caring for animals we don’t wear, eat, hunt or use for some other purpose (e.g., feral cats and stray dogs). But still I didn’t give it much thought since I understood charitable status – status that is issued by CRA (Canada Revenue Agency) – as just that: charity. Rescue and relief was one thing, advocacy and prevention was another. As long as you were only easing suffering and not actively trying to prevent it, you could be a registered as a charity in Canada.
It wasn’t until I worked for a “charitable” organization earlier this year that I started to question it. This organization had nothing to do with animal rights but rather chronic disease in humans. In fact, this company clearly stated on their website that their role was “advocacy and education” which was why they couldn’t legally “…offer medical, pharmaceutical or nutritional advice.” And yet, they also stated that their mission of advocacy was to work with government officials, “…reaching out to elected and non-elected decision-makers in a non-partisan manner. Our advocacy efforts are directed primarily towards government representing all jurisdictions: municipal, provincial/territorial and federal. We employ a variety of advocacy activities to help improve health and social policies, including government relations, media/community campaigns, public speaking events, conducting surveys and letter writing campaigns.”
It’s very clear: part of their mission in treating this disease was to not only help those currently suffering from it but to actively pursue changes in legislation that would help prevent its spread and at the very least, create public awareness about the disease. And there’s nothing wrong with that – it’s exactly the kind of work animal rights organizations do: letter writing, public speaking, reaching out to government bodies. What is wrong about it – or perhaps the better word is “hypocritical” – is that the organization working on behalf of a chronic disease in humans was able to be registered as a charity but the organizations working on behalf of animals (that are not cats and dogs) is denied this status. The work and mandate are the same, even the objective is similar – to prevent needless suffering. Only those who are suffering is different.
But there’s another reason for this hypocrisy: the economy. Or more simply, money.
When I decided to set up the fundraising page for my birthday with Mercy for Animals, I emailed them to confirm that tax receipts would not be issued for donations made in Canada so I could include that information upfront. They confirmed this and used an interesting term that Canada Revenue Agency had used on them: “Because of the nature of our work, we are not able to register as a charity in Canada (which does not allow organizations to cause economic harm to existing industries, including the meat, dairy, and egg industries, amongst other restrictions).“
Only a government agency could come up with that.
This also explained why so many animal rights organizations in Canada that I applied to were either volunteer-run or not very big, making it difficult to find a job with one. Granted, Canada is much smaller in population than the U.S. but not having charitable status makes funding all the more challenging for them: tax receipts cannot be issued to donors, and, according to an article written in 2011 by the Executive Director of the APFA (Association for the Protection of Fur-Bearing Animals), “Charitable status also makes it possible for an organization to qualify for considerably more grants and government programs.” This is absolutely true: the aforementioned company I used to work for had a steady supply of paid-for research grants, scholarships, and corporate donations (many of which were funded by pharmaceutical companies).
The APFA famously had their charitable status revoked by Canada Revenue Agency in 1989 after being a charitable organization since 1944. The commercial fur trade in Canada is big business and, in the words of the APFA: “The Fur-Bearers was committed to showing the public the truth about the fur trade, however since charities in Canada cannot criticize a legal industry, our work was not considered a charitable endeavor.” Just to be clear: educating the public about the “legal industry” of killing animals via leg traps and anal electrocution so we can wear their skin is not “a charitable endeavor” as per the Canadian government. When the APFA lost their charitable status 26 years ago, their funding was immediately cut by 50 percent but they refused to change their mandate just to appease CRA and are still going strong in 2015.
After my correspondence with MFA, it confirmed what I was already beginning to dejectedly conclude: charitable work in Canada is restricted to causes that don’t threaten the profits of major corporations and lobbyists, even if the harm being inflicted by them is on living beings capable of real suffering. More evidence that as long as we only want to save humans and our pets from pain, we’re heroes, our nobility endorsed by the government in the form of a tax receipt. But trying to save foxes, coyotes, pigs, cows, turkeys, chickens and other animals from that same pain? That is not charity but a threat, considered by that same government as harmful to the ever-coddled economy, all the while refusing to see who we are really hurting in the name of it.