There have been a number of recent public statements criticizing “foreign” funding of environmental advocacy by Canadian charities and non profit organizations. This public discussion arises in the context of US and Canadian organizations engaged in environmental education and advocacy directed at Canadian oil sand development and distribution and in the context of US foundations funding this activity.
US foundations and operating charities engaged in environmental activism in Canada need to be cautious and understand the Canadian legal environment.
Canadian federal and provincial statutes require registration of lobbyists. Although the tests vary between statutes, any entity seeking to lobby a public official must register with the government. We have reported on this issue in the November 2011 issue of this Newsletter. Given the sensitivity around environmental advocacy in Canada now, we recommend that any US charity engaging in this advocacy or even funding advocacy by another Canadian or US charity, get specific advice on lobbying registration.
Canadian libel law is more restrictive than US libel law, not providing as broad a scope for commentary in the public interest as does US law. US environmental charities (and US foundations funding them) need to be careful. Foundation grant agreements should be careful to limit advocacy commentary.
There are also various technical requirements for non-Canadian organizations operating in Canada. These include such things as requirements for immigration visas, taxes on business activities (US charities are tax exempt in Canada pursuant to the Canada-US Tax Treaty, but not for business income), business licences and employment law issues. While these are arguably only technicalities, they are all areas for collateral legal issues to arise.
US non-profits engaged in Canadian environmental advocacy, as well as their foundation funders, need to be careful given the current Canadian climate. We would be pleased to review grant agreements and provide background advice to ensure careful compliance with Canadian law.