Canada is a pretty progressive country, except when it comes to animals. Whether it’s the continued slaughter of seals, the Canadian horse meat industry, or the celebration of cruelty known as the Calgary Stampede, Canada (like all nations) could certainly do more to help make things better for animals. Yet change has been slow coming, and proposed changes to Canadian tax laws could slow down things even more.

The Canada Revenue Agency’s recently released “proposed guidance for The Promotion of Animal Welfare and Charitable Registration” would essentially deny most animal welfare and animal rights groups government status as charities. According to the CRA proposed guidelines, “Promoting the welfare of animals is only charitable when it results in a benefit to humans. Purposes that benefit animals, but not humans, are not charitable.” Furthermore, “To be charitable, the benefit to humans must always take precedence over any benefit to animals.”

It gets worse.

The CRA proposal seriously stifles political engagement by animal groups. As this excerpt shows, animal charities would be effectively penalized if they choose to exercise their rights as citizens: “Examples of political, and therefore unacceptable, purposes for charities or applicants promoting the welfare of animals include: to pressure the federal, provincial, or territorial governments to ban or restrict a particular hunting practice or consumer product to promote legislation to abolish the use of animals for scientific research or to ban euthanasia of animals to strengthen the laws protecting wildlife.”

What does it mean exactly for a group to lose its government-recognized status as a charity in Canada? As explained by Lesley Fox of the Association for the Protection of Fur-Bearing Animals, “Being a registered charity makes it possible for an organization to issue tax receipts to donors. Nonprofits without charitable status are unable to issue tax receipts. Charitable status also makes it possible for an organization to qualify for considerably more grants and government programs.” Her organization lost its charitable status due to its anti-fur lobbying, and as a result saw funding drop by 50 percent.

If Canada’s 700 or so pro-animal groups are deemed unworthy of being deemed charities by the Canada Revenue Agency, animal activists throughout the Great White North will find themselves essentially neutered. The voices for change will face an even greater uphill battle in improving the lives of Canadian animals.

However, the CRA’s proposed guidance is just that: proposed. They are soliciting comments and opinions about the guidance. So take the time to let the Canada Revenue Agency know how you feel. But hurry. The deadline for accepting comments is March 31, 2011.

Photo Credit: PETA