Promotion of animal welfare and charitable registration
August 19, 2011
Promoting the welfare of animals can be a charitable purpose. When it is charitable, promoting the welfare of animals normally falls under one or both of the following heads, or categories, of charitable purposes:
- the advancement of education (the second head)
- other purposes beneficial to the community that are considered charitable at law (the fourth head):
- promoting the moral or ethical development of the community
- upholding the administration and enforcement of the law
- protecting the environment
- promoting agriculture
According to common law, a purpose is only charitable when it provides a benefit to the public (or a sufficient segment of the public). In the context of animal welfare, the courts have determined that promoting the welfare of animals provides an intangible moral benefit to humanity in general. As a result, the very act of showing kindness to animals in need of assistance or care satisfies the public benefit requirement under common law.
Charitable activities that could promote the welfare of animals may include, but are not limited to, the following types of activities:
- operating an animal rescue service
- maintaining a sanctuary for aging, dangerous, displaced, unhealthy, or former farm animals
- protecting the environment, such as by preserving an ecosystem and its wildlifeFootnote 1
- monitoring the transportation of animals such as companion or agricultural animals
The Income Tax Act permits all registered charities to use a limited amount of their resources to conduct non-partisan political activities. With regard to animal welfare charities, this includes advocating for changes in law regarding animal welfare if these activities further the charitable purposes. However, notwithstanding the Income Tax Act provision allowing limited political activities, common law prohibits organizations that are constituted for a political purpose to be recognized as charitable. For more information, see Policy statement CPS-022, Political activities.
The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) administers federal tax laws in Canada, including the Income Tax Act. The CRA’s Charities Directorate is responsible for applying and enforcing the provisions of the Income Tax Act that relate to charities.
The Charities Directorate registers charities (which include charitable organizations, public foundations, and private foundations) under the Income Tax Act, and ensures that, once registered, charities continue to meet all the legal and administrative requirements for charitable registration.
This guidance reflects the Charities Directorate’s interpretation of relevant common law (case law or court decisions) and legislation related to animal welfare organizations. This guidance will be used to determine whether registered charities and applicants for registered charity status, unless otherwise specified, fulfill the requirements for charitable registration under the Income Tax Act.
This guidance is intended to be a useful reference point for:
- applicant organizations
- charities seeking to maintain registration
- CRA officials reviewing applications and auditing operations
- the general public
This guidance provides general information only. All decisions about specific organizations are made individually, applying the law to the facts in each case. The facts may come from information provided by the organization itself or from other information available to the Charities Directorate.
This guidance applies to registered charities under the Income Tax Act, and does not apply to entities that are exempt from tax as non-profit organizations. To see if an organization is registered as a charity under the Income Tax Act, you can search our List of charities.
For this guidance, the following definitions apply:
an animal is any member of the kingdom Animalia, other than a humanFootnote 2
an applicant is an organization applying for registered charity status that intends to promote the welfare of animals
a charity is a Canadian charity that is registered under the Income Tax Act
promoting animal welfare is taking steps to improve the well-being of animals
promoting the moral and ethical development of the community summarizes the many different ways the courtsFootnote 3 have described the intangible moral benefit that results from showing kindness to animals in need of human assistance or care by preventing or relieving their suffering, or helping animals recover from pain, injury, distress, or abuse
5. Determining eligibility for charitable registration
All applicants must meet several requirements to qualify for registration. For detailed information on the requirements for registering a charity, please see Applying for registration and the following documents:
All charities must comply with Canada’s anti-terrorism legislation, and the Criminal Code. Charities are responsible for ensuring that they do not operate in association with individuals or groups that are engaged in terrorist activities, or activities in support of such activities. An applicant may be denied registration, and a charity’s status may be revoked, if there are reasonable grounds to believe the applicant or charity operates in such a way as to make its resources available, either directly or indirectly, to any entity, whether or not it is listed under the Criminal Code, that engages in terrorist activities or activities in support of them. The CRA’s Charities Directorate has produced a Checklist for charities on avoiding terrorist abuse to help Canadian charities identify vulnerabilities to terrorist abuse, as part of good management practices. (For more information about these provisions, see Charities in the international context.)
6. Purposes and activities
To be registered as a charity, an applicant must have purposes that are exclusively charitable, and charitable activities that achieve those purposes. The purposes describe the aim or intent of the organization. The activities describe how the organization will accomplish its purposes.
The term charitable is not defined in the Income Tax Act. Therefore, common law determines what is charitable. The courts have identified four heads (or categories) of charity:
- the relief of poverty
- the advancement of education
- the advancement of religion
- other purposes beneficial to the community that are considered charitable at law
The fourth head of charity is a general category comprised of purposes that have been recognized as charitable by the courts that do not fall under the first three heads.
Purposes that promote the welfare of animals typically fall under the advancement of education or under the following purposes within the fourth head:
- promoting the moral or ethical development of the community
- upholding the administration and enforcement of the law
- protecting the environment
- promoting agriculture
7. Public benefit
To be registered as a charity, all applicants must also meet the public benefit test, by showing that their purposes deliver a benefit to the public or to a sufficient segment of the public. For more information on the public benefit test, see CPS-024, Guidelines for registering a charity: Meeting the public benefit test.
The courts have decided that charitable purposes to promote the welfare of animals meet the public benefit test by providing an intangible moral benefit to humanity as a whole through "the advancement of morals and education among [people]." Footnote 4 As a result, the CRA is able to recognize the act of showing kindness to animals in need of human assistance or care, such as those that are stray, injured, neglected, or abused, as satisfying the public benefit requirement of common law.
In this guidance, this moral benefit is summarized as the promotion of the moral and ethical development of the community.
Helping animals that are not in need of assistance or care would not be a charitable purpose. For example, putting a bird feeder in an ordinary suburban backyard benefits the birds in the area, but does not typically help birds that are specifically in need of human assistance or care, such as those that are suffering from injury or abuse.
In addition to promoting the moral and ethical development of the community, other established charitable purposes can involve the promotion of welfare of animals. For example, a charity could sustain biodiversity by promoting animal welfare by preserving an ecosystem and its animals, or by upholding and enforcing animal cruelty laws.
Purposes and activities that would be illegal in Canada and those that are contrary to Canadian public policy are prohibited.Footnote 5
7.1 Private benefit
Any private benefit to a business or individual resulting from promoting the welfare of animals must be minor and an incidental by-product.Footnote 6
A charity promoting the welfare of animals might on occasion find itself in possession of an animal with a high market value, were it to consider selling it. For example, a charity operating a breeding program for a rare or endangered breed might accumulate a number of animals with a high value, but which it can no longer accommodate. In such cases, the charity must take care to avoid any inappropriate private benefit, such as allowing the directors and employees of the charity to benefit personally from the sale or use of the animals by buying them at reduced prices or using them for personal benefit.
A charity may use the opportunity to create revenue by showing animals at a public event. In such a case, the charity must make sure that it does not carry on an unrelated business, and that any private benefit to other organizations or individuals is a minor and incidental by-product. A charity that allows a private business or individual to use its animals in a commercial activity must charge fair market value for the use of the animals. For more information on related businesses, see Policy statement CPS-019, What is a related business?
7.2 Restricting programs to specific breeds or species
Normally, when a charity wants to restrict who benefits from its programs, the charity must show that the nature of the restriction is clearly linked to the benefit.Footnote 7 However, when promoting the welfare of animals, a charity can choose to restrict the subject of its programs to particular breed or species of animals.
However, a charity cannot restrict its services to animals belonging to a specific group of people, unless restricting its services is reasonable and necessary to achieve its purpose. For example, a charity may provide medical treatment only for animals whose owners cannot otherwise afford the medical treatment required, but may not restrict the service to animals whose owners are employed by a particular employer.
8. Charitable purposes
A charity must only have purposes that are charitable. Charities that promote the welfare of animals typically have purposes that fall under one or more of the following categories of charitable purposes.
8.1 Advancement of education (the second head)
To advance education in the charitable sense means:
- formal training of the mind
- advancing the knowledge or abilities of the recipient
- improving a useful branch of human knowledge through research
For the first two bulleted points above, a structured attempt at education is required, as well as a clear teaching or learning part that is available to students or the general public.Footnote 8
Although many educational activities will ultimately promote animal welfare, organizations advancing education related to animals need not have purposes that directly promote animal welfare. A charity could, for example:
- provide courses in animal welfare law
- conduct research on predator-prey ratios in given areas
- research wild animal populations, their health, or migration habits
- offer training in the safe coexistence of humans and wildlife
- conduct research into replacement, reduction, or refinement of the use of animals in scientific experimentation
The courts have ruled that an activity that tries to influence the public toward one side of an issue is not advancing education in the charitable sense.Footnote 9 However, a charity may nonetheless be able to undertake such activities as a political activity. For more information, see Political activities and purposes below. Therefore, if a charity offers courses or training in how to minimize harm to local wildlife and ecosystems that tend to result from human activity, it would likely be advancing education in the charitable sense. However, if a charity were to try to convince people that certain legal hunting practices were morally wrong and should be abolished, this would be a political activity.
8.2 Other purposes that benefit the community
Charities that promote the welfare of animals may have one or more of the following recognized fourth head purposes.
8.2.1 Promoting the moral and ethical development of the community
Promoting the moral and ethical development of the community means a charity will "promote feelings of humanity and morality generally, repress brutality, and thus elevate the human race"Footnote 10 by helping animals in need of assistance or care. Rescue organizations and animal shelters typically have purposes that fall under this category.
A charity’s governing documents do not need to refer expressly to the promotion of the moral and ethical development of the community. Case law presumes that animal welfare charities are in fact promoting such an objective through their work.
Examples of this purpose may include, but are not limited to:
- operating a non-profit animal hospital Footnote 11
- rescuing and rehabilitating wild animals, and returning them to the wild
- spaying or neutering domestic pets, feral, or stray animals
- rescuing and holding for adoption stray, abandoned, abused, or surrendered animals
- offering temporary shelter for the pets of individuals fleeing domestic abuse
- providing a sanctuary for aging, dangerous, displaced, unhealthy, or former farm animals that cannot be adopted, returned to the wild, or otherwise released
Example of an acceptable purpose and activities
To rescue stray, abandoned, abused, or surrendered animals by:
- constructing and operating a shelter to house stray and abandoned animals
- staffing a telephone line to take reports of stray or injured animals
- contracting with veterinarians to provide medical care to any animals taken in
- encouraging the spaying and neutering, as well as the identification and registration, of domestic pets
Relief of suffering
Relieving the suffering of animals generally means eliminating or minimizing pain, injury, or distress, or helping an animal recover from pain, injury, or distress. Relieving the suffering of animals does not necessarily mean preventing all forms of harm.
A charity that relieves suffering may seek to minimize any pain, injury, or distress felt by animals as a result of harm caused by others that is legally considered to be necessary or justifiable. For example, while federal and provincial legislation generally allows for animals to be processed as food, promoting "the humane slaughtering of animals" is a charitable purpose.Footnote 12 Similarly, while animal welfare law generally allows animals to be used for scientific experimentation, a charity could still conduct research into replacement, reduction, or refinement of the use of animals in scientific experimentation (although seeking to abolish the use of animals for scientific experiment is not itself a charitable purpose). Footnote 13
A charity that relieves suffering may cause certain types of harm that are legally considered to be necessary or justifiable. For example, a rescue centre might euthanize critically injured or terminally ill animals, where prolonging their life would result in undue suffering,
Deciding whether a certain type of harm is necessary or justifiable can be a difficult and sensitive issue. Federal and provincial legislationFootnote 14 as well as municipal bylaws usually provide some minimum requirements for the standards of care of companion and agricultural animals, and can be a useful guidance.
Any harm a charity may cause to an animal in the course of relieving suffering must be legal and only for the purpose of relieving or minimizing greater pain or injury. If an organization harms animals in a way that is not legal, or that does not actually relieve suffering, this may be an activity that does not further a charitable purpose. For example, if a rescue centre consistently took in more animals than it had the resources to care for properly, this activity might cause more suffering than it relieves. In such a case, the CRA may decide that the organization’s activity, regardless of its intent, is not relieving suffering in a way the courts have decided is charitable.
It is important that applicants and charities that care for animals familiarize themselves with relevant federal and provincial legislation, as well as any municipal bylaws regarding animal welfare, to make sure that their purposes and activities comply with the law.Footnote 15
Animal rescue charities
Animal rescue charities are, as a rule, those that take in animals that are stray, abandoned, injured, abused, surrendered, or otherwise "needing care and attention" and "human assistance."Footnote 16 Although animal rescue is typically charitable, the acquisition or keeping of pets, or wild or exotic animals, for personal interest is not charitable.
A rescue charity may have a permanent facility or network of foster homes that cares for animals on a short- or long-term basis. These charities typically have the intention of placing the animals in suitable adoptive households.
A rescue charity may also take in wildlife to help animals recover from injury, suffering, or any other form of harm, whether inflicted by cruelty, accident, or any other cause. If possible, the charity returns the animal to the wild.
If an animal no longer needs an animal rescue charity’s help, such as a wild bird that has healed fully from injuries and is ready to return to its habitat, it would not be charitable to continue devoting resources to the animal’s care. The charity would no longer be alleviating the distress of animals in need of care and assistance, and would therefore not be carrying out a charitable purpose.
With this in mind, some animals cannot be adopted into a household or released back into the wild, and must live out their natural lives in a protected environment. These animals have medical conditions, behavioural problems, permanent injuries, or other issues that make them impossible to adopt or release.
For example, a charity might have the purpose of taking in dogs that are likely to be euthanized for aggressive behaviour,Footnote 17 and that can never live safely in a typical household. Assuming the charity can provide appropriate care and attention for the animals without causing its staff, dogs, or anyone else any kind of undue harm while letting the dogs live out their natural lives, the charity would likely be carrying out a charitable purpose without ever trying to adopt the dogs out.
Importing animals for purposes of providing protection is only charitable when it can be shown that this was necessary to ensure the animal’s or species’ welfare.
Breed and kennel clubs for companion animals are not charitable. Breed and kennel clubs are organizations that advance the interests of a particular breed or breeds of pet, usually dogs or cats, such as by promoting the breed, maintaining standards, advocating on its behalf, and registering purebreds.
Breeding societies that preserve stressed, threatened, or endangered species may be charitable under the protection of the environment, and livestock breeding societies may be charitable under the promotion of agriculture. See Protecting the environment and Promoting agriculture below.
8.2.2. Upholding the administration and enforcement of the law
The courts have recognized that upholding the administration and enforcement of the law is charitable. Footnote 18 In Canada, legislation to prevent and sanction animal cruelty exists at the federal and provincial and territorial levels, and there are bylaws at the municipal level. Organizations empowered by a province, territory, or municipality to enforce animal welfare laws Footnote 19 are charitable. An organization that does not have such powers could still uphold the administration and enforcement of animal welfare laws by, for example, collecting evidence of animal abuse and alerting enforcement agencies to these cases.
A charity whose purpose is to uphold the administration and enforcement of the law should specify in its application which laws it intends to uphold. Promoting the welfare of animals by upholding the administration and enforcement of the law may include, but is not limited to:
- monitoring the practices of zoos and the welfare of zoo animals to determine compliance with relevant laws
- investigating and putting illegal dog breeding operations out of operation
- observing the transportation of animals, such as companion or agricultural animals, to determine compliance with relevant laws
- patrolling communities for violations of existing federal, provincial, or territorial laws, or municipal bylaws
Example of an acceptable purpose and activities
To uphold the administration and enforcement of (specify the law or laws) in the area/community/city of _____ by:
- identifying infractions through direct surveillance and through tips from the public
- setting up a website and telephone line for tips from the public
- sharing information with local law enforcement authorities
8.2.3. Protecting the environment
A charity that promotes animal welfare by protecting the environment, such as by preserving an ecosystem and its wildlife, may qualify for registration. See Summary policy CSP-E08, Environment.
8.2.4 Promoting agriculture
The courts have also recognized that promoting agriculture as a whole, including livestock breeding, is charitable.Footnote 20 A charity could therefore increase the health, quality, and breeding of a particular breed or breeds of cattle, sheep, poultry, or other livestock.
A charity that promotes agriculture cannot do so for private profit or gain for an individual, group, or company. A charity must be established to promote agriculture generally, for a public benefit, and not simply to further the interests of particular persons or companies engaged in agriculture.
For example, a charity might be registered to improve the breeding and management of a particular rare breed of cattle whose population is at risk. As another example, a charity might research, and inform members of the agricultural industry of, practices, procedures, or equipment that is more efficient, environmentally sustainable, or humane.
Example of an acceptable purpose and activities
To improve the breed and management of the _____ breed of cattle by:
- providing information on the qualities of, and standards of care for, the breed to the public, farmers, and veterinarians
- maintaining a registry of purebred cattle to help improve the gene pool
- offering specialized veterinary care for health issues related to the breed
9. Political activities and purposes
Under the Income Tax Act, a registered charity may generally devote up to 10% of its resources to carry out non-partisan political activities that help further its charitable purposes. Footnote 21 Political activities are those that seek to change, retain, or oppose a law, policy, or decision of any level of government in Canada or in a foreign country.
For example, depending on the charitable purposes for which a charity was registered, a charity might devote 10% of its resources to the following kinds of political activities:
- promoting new restrictions on a particular hunting practice or the use of animals for scientific research
- calling for the strengthening of laws to protect wildlife
Although a charity may have some political activities, an organization established for a political purpose cannot be a charity. Therefore, a charity could not adopt any of the above activities as formal purposes. For more details, see Policy statement CPS-022, Political activities.
10. Questions and answers
1. Has the Charities Directorate changed its position on the registration of charities that promote the welfare of animals?
No. This guidance sets out the Charities Directorate’s existing interpretation of the Income Tax Act and common law as they relate to charities that promote the welfare of animals.
Charities that are currently registered to promote the welfare of animals, and that comply with all the requirements of the Income Tax Act, will continue to be registered. Applications for charitable status to promote the welfare of animals will be assessed on the same basis as they were before the publication of this guidance.
2. Why is the Charities Directorate publishing this guidance?
In past consultations with representatives from the charitable sector, the Charities Directorate agreed to provide more transparency on its decision-making processes. This guidance is part of the Directorate’s commitment to transparency.
3. Who does this guidance apply to?
The guidance only applies to organizations that are applying to be registered as charities under the Income Tax Act, or that are already registered. To find out if an organization is registered as a charity under the Income Tax Act, you can search our List of charities.
4. Why won’t the Charities Directorate register organizations that have political purposes, such as advocating for changes to animal welfare laws?
The courts have stated that an organization that is constituted for a political purpose may not be recognized as a charity under common law. As a result, the Charities Directorate can only register applicants whose purposes are exclusively charitable. An organization whose purpose is to advocate for any change in law, including a change in law related to the welfare of animals, has a political purpose and is therefore not eligible for registration as a charity under the Income Tax Act.
However, an organization that is constituted for exclusively charitable purposes can devote up to 10% of its resources to non-partisan political activities that help further its charitable purposes.
5. What is the CRA’s position on using animals for scientific research purposes?
The CRA does not regulate the use of animals for scientific research purposes. The CRA is responsible for applying the provisions of the Income Tax Act, including those related to charitable registration. Charities must comply with the laws of Canada, including relevant laws relating to the treatment of animals.
6. Can registered charities try to stop animals from being used in scientific experimentation?
Generally speaking, no. Since Canadian animal welfare laws generally allow for the use of animals in scientific research, rescuing these animals is not charitable.Footnote 22 Only if a research facility were using animals for scientific research in a way that was an offence under Canadian animal welfare law could it be charitable to work to have those animals rescued by the appropriate legal authorities.
However, a charity could use a limited amount of its resources to advocate for changes in the law regarding the use of animals in scientific experimentation as part of its non-partisan political activities.
As well, it could be a charitable purpose to conduct research into replacement, reduction, or refinement of the use of animals in scientific experimentation, or to provide a sanctuary or adoptive homes for animals that have been retired from use in scientific experimentation.
7. I heard about a charity whose volunteers and employees have been accused of cruelty to animals. What is the CRA going to do?
The CRA only administers tax law, and cannot enforce federal, provincial, or territorial animal cruelty laws, or municipal animal cruelty laws. In a case of alleged animal cruelty, the CRA would consider the views of animal welfare authorities as to whether the charity’s activities were a violation of animal welfare laws. The CRA may conclude that the charity has purposes or activities that are not legal, or that it is failing to provide a public benefit. In this case the charity would be subject to sanctions or revocation.
8. Does this guidance apply to zoos that are charities?
Typically, no. Zoos normally have the purpose of keeping and exhibiting animals to the public, rather than promoting animal welfare. Zoos tend to be registered as charities under the same category as libraries, museums, and other repositories.
9. Is it charitable to promote the welfare of animals by preventing farm animals such as cows or pigs from being slaughtered and marketed for human consumption?
No. Canada's animal welfare laws allow for animals to be used for generally accepted agricultural practices, which includes processing them as food. Preventing farm animals from being processed for food is therefore not, as a rule, charitable.
However, depending on the particular facts of the case, it may be a charitable purpose to research and inform members of the agricultural industry of humane or environmentally sustainable methods or procedures for livestock farming, or the processing of animals for food.
10. What external references does the CRA rely on to decide if a charity or applicant’s activities relieve suffering?
When making a decision, the CRA will typically consider relevant federal, provincial, and territorial animal welfare legislation and municipal bylaws that describe minimum standards of care, as well as guidelines, policy statements, codes of practice, and other resources published by bodies such as the National Farm Animal Care Council or the Canadian Council on Animal Care, and consult animal welfare authorities as required.
11. Our local rescue charity has set up satellite adoption centres in private businesses throughout the province. Is this acceptable?
Yes. As long as the charity does not pay more than fair market value for the services provided, any benefit to the private business would be considered incidental.
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