Registering charities that promote racial equality

Policy statement

This policy focuses on organizations whose purpose is to educate about, or to promote racial equality in Canada. Organizations that want to address other forms of discrimination prohibited by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and human rights legislation may also qualify for charitable registration. Although they do not fall within the scope of the current policy, the grounds for recognizing or denying charitable status to such organizations would likely parallel those in this policy. Guidelines will be developed for organizations whose purpose is to eliminate other forms of discrimination.

The current policy states that programs qualifying under the 'advancement of education' category can undertake such activities outside Canada. However, the policy does not presently address programs intending to operate abroad that qualify under the 'other purposes beneficial to the community' category. Canada Revenue Agency will consider such applicants on a case by case basis until guidance which clarifies these circumstances becomes available.

Reference number

Effective date
September 2, 2003


The policy describes how applicants can be registered as charities under the advancement of education or other purposes beneficial to the community categories. The policy is also relevant for immigrant, refugee, ethnocultural, or other organizations seeking to include such purposes in their governing documents.Footnote 1


Organizations whose purpose is to educate about, or to promote racial equality can qualify for registration as a charity. Promoting racial equality includes efforts to eliminate racial or ethnic discrimination. It also includes promoting positive race relations by, for example, working to improve relations between any racial and/or ethnic groups in Canada.


Promoting racial equality means working to ensure the full and equitable participation of racial and ethnocultural groups in Canada, consistent with the equality rights guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, existing legislation, and public policy. It includes efforts such as eliminating racial (including ethnic) discrimination, and encouraging positive race relations, which encompasses efforts to improve relations between any racial and/or ethnic groups in Canada.

A racial or cultural group is defined by its race, colour, national or ethnic origin.Footnote 2  To the extent that religion is inextricably linked to the group's racial or cultural identity, it can also become a defining characteristic.

Racism includes "racist ideologies, prejudiced attitudes, discriminatory behaviour, structural arrangements, and institutionalized practices"Footnote 3 resulting in racial or ethnic inequality. It can be characterized as "a set of implicated or explicit beliefs, assumptions and actions based upon an ideology that one racial or ethnic group is superior to another."Footnote 4

Racial discrimination has been defined as "any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life."Footnote 5



1. Racial discrimination is an identified social problem prohibited by an international convention to which most countries are signatories, making the promotion of racial equality an integral part of the public policy of many countries. In Canada, this is clearly evidenced by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, legislative responses such as federal, provincial, and territorial statutes, as well as official declarations of government policy. It is further evidenced by the establishment of public institutions whose purposes are to eradicate racism.

2. There is also an increasing international recognition of the elimination of racial discrimination as a charitable purpose, based in part on the evolution of the law. For example, the U.S. recognizes as charitable the elimination of prejudice and discrimination.Footnote 6  In the U.K., "promoting good race relations, endeavouring to eliminate discrimination on the grounds of race and encouraging equality of opportunity between persons of different racial groups"Footnote 7 are charitable purposes. Details of these approaches can be found in Appendix A.

3. Canada's courts have not directly addressed whether promoting racial equality would qualify as a charitable purpose.Footnote 8  The cases where this possibility emerged did not serve to expand the limited existing case law. Most notably, in the Supreme Court of Canada decision Vancouver Society of Immigrant and Visible Minority Women v. M.N.R., the Hon. Mr. Justice Iacobucci declined to comment on "whether the elimination of prejudice and discrimination may be recognized as a charitable purpose at common law."Footnote 9

4. Until now, the Canada Revenue Agency has relied on Re StrakoschFootnote 10 a decision of the British courts in 1949, which found "appeasing racial feeling within the community" to be a political purpose. This decision acknowledged that promoting race relations through educational methods might be considered charitable, and, as a result, applicants whose purposes and activities were clearly worded to fit within the advancement of education category of charity have been registered in Canada.

5. Given the significant change in Canadian legislation and public policy since that decision, however, the reconsideration of whether promoting positive race relations is still a political purpose is overdue. With Parliamentary recognition of the promotion of positive race relations and the elimination of racial discrimination in Canada, it appears possible to move beyond the Re Strakosch case. Promoting racial equality is consistent with existing, broadly-based legislation and public policy. This establishes it as undoubtedly beneficial to the public, and no longer political. As a result, the Canada Revenue Agency intends to accept the promotion of racial equality as manifestly beneficial to the public. Details of the evolution of the law and public policy in Canada can be found in Appendix B.

6. In order to be considered a charitable purpose, promoting racial equality must also fall within one or more of the acceptable categories of charity. In addition to educating about racial equality, or about methods of promoting it under the advancement of education, the Canada Revenue Agency now also recognizes the promotion of racial equality as analogous to an existing charitable purpose—mental and moral improvementFootnote 11  —under the fourth category of charity, other purposes beneficial to the community.

Determining charitable registration

General requirements

7. Any organization that wants to be registered as a charity must have exclusively charitable purposes and must be set up for the benefit of the public. For more information, see Policy statement CPS-024, Guidelines for registering a charity: Meeting the public benefit test.

Purposes and activities

8. Purposes that promote racial equality can potentially qualify either under advancement of education (see paragraphs 14 to 20), or under other purposes beneficial to the community (see paragraphs 18 to 26), depending on the focus of the applicant. 

9. The wording of purposes needs to be precise enough so as to limit the applicant to what is charitable at law. The proposed activities must also clearly relate to the applicant's purposes and directly further their purposes.

10. Purposes also cannot include a focus on international relations, which is the purview of the state.Footnote 12

11. Like all charities, organizations qualifying under this policy may devote up to 100% of their total resources to public policy dialogue and development activities that further their stated charitable purposes. For more information, applicants should refer to Guidance CG-027, Public policy dialogue and development activities by charities.

Advancement of education

12. Groups whose purposes are to educate about racial equality, or about methods of promoting it, are recognized as charitable. This is not a shift in current practice, as purposes clearly worded to fall under the advancement of education category, operating within Canada as well as abroad, have been registered in the past.Footnote 13  The following is a clarification of the guidelines for this category.

13. While there are many ways that groups might educate about racial equality, the following are examples of the kinds of activities that would be acceptable. These should not be confused with the acceptable wording of purposes—such examples are provided in paragraphs 15 and 16.

For more information, see Guidance CG-030, Advancement of education and charitable registration, and Policy statement CPS-029, Research as a charitable activity.

14. While it is recognized that all research and education activities are carried out from a particular perspective, they must not directly or indirectly support or oppose a political party or candidate for public office, must be reasonably objective, based on factual information, and a well-reasoned position.Footnote 16   It would be acceptable, for example, to start from the premise that race equity is preferable to discrimination, allowing the educational activities or materials to use an anti-racist framework. However, materials the group knows or ought to know are inaccurate, false, misleading, inflammatory, biased, or disparaging would not be considered educational.

Examples of acceptable wording

15. An acceptable purpose usually consists of a precise statement, followed by a description of how the applicant will carry out that purpose. Often, it will also identify the intended audience (for example, the public, service providers, etc.).

16. It is a charitable purpose to:

Wording unlikely to be considered acceptable

17. The first two examples below do not provide enough information—if no elaboration is included that outlines how the purposes will be achieved (for example, a list of charitable activities that further these purposes, which is included with the application)—such broad wording would not sufficiently restrict the applicant to charitable purposes. The last example is not accepted as a charitable purpose (see footnote 12). Therefore, the following examples are unlikely to be acceptable wording for a purpose:

Other purposes beneficial to the community

18. Promoting racial equality through positive race relations efforts and eliminating racial discrimination can be considered a charitable purpose in the fourth category of charity, other purposes beneficial to the community.

19. EEnsuring conformity with existing laws, as in the case of opposing racial discrimination, is a recognized charitable purpose.Footnote 17 

20. Fostering good relations between countries remains an unacceptable purpose, as this would be a foreign policy matter and not charitable.

21. The types of programs and activities that would be acceptable in this category of charity are listed below:Footnote 18 

Public benefit under the other purposes beneficial to the community category Footnote 20 

22. A charity generally has to offer programs and services that fall within this category to everyone who wishes to access them.Footnote 21  Where a charity proposes to restrict the beneficiaries in any way, or to focus on a particular group of beneficiaries, the nature of the restriction must be clearly linked to the proposed benefit.Footnote 22 

23. For example, there are communities that have been the specific target of intolerance or violence, or that have experienced sustained discrimination in Canada. Where there is objective evidence of such forms of injustice, and there are needs unique to a particular community's circumstances, the most effective way to assist those affected, or to mitigate their long-standing disadvantage within the parameters of what is charitable, may well be to restrict or to focus on the common needs of that community.

Facilitator or umbrella organizations

24. It is acceptable to establish a charity whose function is to contribute to the efficiency and effectiveness of groups that engage in anti-racist and race relations work (regionally, provincially, or nationally). For more information, see Policy statement CPS-026, Guidelines for the registration of umbrella organizations and title holding organizations.

Examples of acceptable wording

25. Acceptable wording for purposes in this category might include:

Wording unlikely to be considered acceptable

26. The examples below do not provide enough detail to ensure the group has exclusively charitable purposes. If no elaboration is included that outlines how the purposes will be achieved (for example, a list of charitable activities that further these objects, which is included with the application), such broad wording would not sufficiently restrict the applicant to charitable purposes:

Appendix A

U.S. Approach

A1. The U.S. Income Tax RegulationsFootnote 23  recognize the following as charitable under the "promotion of social welfare" category:Footnote 24  reducing neighbourhood tensions, eliminating prejudice and discrimination, defending human and civil rights secured by law, and combating community deterioration and juvenile delinquency.

A2. Several examples from the 1968 I.R.S. Revenue Rulings illustrate the kinds of tax-exempt organizations that are devoted to these goals. They include an organization set up to eliminate the discrimination that limited employment opportunities for qualified minority workers;Footnote 25  an organization that educated the public on the merits of racially integrated neighbourhoods;Footnote 26  a group that investigated the causes of deterioration in a particular community and informed residents and city officials of possible corrective measures;Footnote 27  and a group that conducted investigations and research on discrimination against minority groups in housing and public accommodation.Footnote 28 

U.K. Charity Commission

A3. In the U.K., groups that focus on race relations are no longer disqualified from charitable registration on political grounds. In 1983, the Charity Commission reconsidered the Re StrakoschFootnote 29  decision in light of social and legislative change, and accepted that "promoting good race relations, endeavouring to eliminate discrimination on the grounds of race and encouraging equality of opportunity between persons of different racial groups were charitable purposes."Footnote 30

A4. The Commissioners were of the view that Re Strakosch did not freeze the appeasement of racial feeling as a political purpose for all time. In England and Wales the question of whether it would be beneficial to the public to appease racial feeling appeared to be no longer a political one as legislation had been passed in an attempt to enforce good race relations and it is unlikely that any substantial body of opinion in England and Wales would not consider the promotion of good race relations to be a purpose beneficial to the community. The fundamental reason why political purposes are not charitable is that the Court has no means of judging whether the proposed change in the law will or will not be for the public benefit. The matter is no longer one for the Court to judge. The nation, through Parliament, has already decided that it is for the public benefit and the matter has ceased to be political.Footnote 31

A5. In addition, the Commissioners found analogies to the purposes that had been held by the courts to be charitable, such as the preservation of public order and the prevention of breaches of peace,Footnote 32  mental and moral improvement,Footnote 33   and the promotion of equality of women with men.Footnote 34    As a result, promoting race relations and the elimination of discrimination could become acceptable charitable purposes, analogous to existing subcategories of other purposes beneficial to the community.

Appendix B

B1. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms has been enacted as part of the Constitution, and legislation and public policy have evolved substantially in Canada, since the Re Strakosch decision in 1949. The following are an illustration of this evolution:

B2. The courts have also underscored the importance of anti-discrimination policies and legislation. In a 1990 case involving a charity that limited scholarships to white, Protestant, British subjects, the Ontario Court of Appeal noted that racial discrimination "is patently at variance with the democratic principles governing our pluralistic society in which equality rights are constitutionally guaranteed and in which the multicultural heritage of Canadians is to be preserved and enhanced." It was also observed "how far out of keeping the trust now is with prevailing ideas and standards of racial and religious tolerance and equality, and, indeed, how offensive its terms are to fair-minded citizens."Footnote 40   The trust was therefore seen to violate existing public policy because it was based on notions of sexism, racism, and religious superiority—policy that has clearly shifted since the trust was created in 1923.

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