The Toronto Star…Nearly $15 million of Canadian charitable donations were sent overseas to groups the taxman has labelled terrorist organizations, according to a federal audit obtained by the Toronto Star.
The audit states that International Relief Fund for the Afflicted and Needy Canada (IRFAN-Canada) used “deceptive fundraising” to support Hamas.
The Canada Revenue Agency announced its decision to revoke the status of the Mississauga-based charity last week. A lawyer for IRFAN-Canada said the charity has appealed the decision.
“Canada Revenue Agency’s position is really built on a pillar of sand,” said Naseer Syed.
However, a CRA report states that “IRFAN-Canada is an integral part of an international fundraising effort to support Hamas.” Hamas is considered a terrorist organization by Canada, the U.S., the European Union and Israel.
IRFAN-Canada created promotional videos that the CRA said “demonize Israel, characterize the Arab-Israeli conflict as a religious war, appeal for all Arab and Muslim nations to join in the struggle against Israel and glorify martyrdom.”
But Syed said the CRA overstated the political content.
“As the promotional videos feature the potential recipients of humanitarian aid – the needy families affected by poverty, disease and war – discussing the poverty in Gaza in the immediate postwar period, it is difficult to imagine that the videos would not contain some political content.”
The decision to revoke the group’s status comes after years of tax audits and litigation over its alleged ties to Hamas. An audit of the charity’s 2002 fiscal year found that IRFAN-Canada “maintained partnerships” with organizations that have direct ties to Hamas.
The most recent audit, from Jan. 1, 2005 until Dec. 31, 2009, reveals that IRFAN-Canada gave $14.6 million to 15 organizations that have ties to Hamas.
They include the Gaza Ministry of Health, which the CRA said has been under Hamas control and direction since March 2006. Though Hamas does deliver social and humanitarian services, the CRA said those actions cannot be distinguished from the group’s terrorist activities.
Syed said the charity helps people in need through local organizations and never knowingly dealt with Hamas.
“The charity was trying to send a dialysis machine to Gaza,” Syed said. “The issue is, how to you get aid to Palestinians, especially in Gaza? All the parties that we’re dealing with are legal in their jurisdictions.”
A United Nations agency credited the charity for donating US$1.2 million for the construction of a new girls’ school in the West Bank in 2009.
The CRA said IRFAN-Canada has damaged the integrity of the Canadian charity system.
The audit found that the charity redistributed more than $580,000 raised for disaster relief projects to sponsor programs in the West Bank and Gaza. Donors had earmarked donations to specific disasters, including the 2004 tsunami, the 2006 South Asia earthquake, the 2006 Indonesia earthquake, the 2007 Bangladesh cyclone, the 2008 Burma cyclone, the 2008 Pakistan earthquake and the 2008 Indonesia earthquake.
However, Syed said some of those funds have already been spent on their designated disaster relief while the rest will remain in IRFAN-Canada’s general bank account until suitable projects are selected.
The audit also found that the charity failed to maintain proper records. The records the charity did provide for the audit period were often an “after-the-fact paper exercise” that showed it distributed $19 million in Canadian funds and $17 million in gifts-in-kind for projects outside Canada during that period.
The audit established that $13 million of the gifts-in-kind were transferred to organization with ties to Hamas.
Stockwell Day raised the charity’s alleged link to Hamas in Parliament when he was an opposition MP in 2004. He asked the Liberal government to investigate.
Day referenced a Privy Council report sent to Prime Minister Jean Chretien in 2000 that listed Povrel Jerusalem Fund for Human Services (JFHS) as a Canadian group with links to terrorist organizations.
The audit suggests that JFHS and IRFAN-Canada were consolidated in 2001. under the leadership of Rasem Abdel-Majid. The report states the consolidation was concealed, “leading us to consider the strong possibility that this exercise was intended to circumvent the CRA’s refusal to grant JFHS registration as a charity.”
Syed said IRFAN-Canada was formed independently and later acquired some assets from JFHS.
Though the IRFAN-Canada is no longer a charity, it still operates as a not-for profit organization.