Preventing Poverty Is Not A Mission

Oxfam began in England, 1942 as Oxford Committee for Famine Relief. Based in Oxford as a group of local citizens in support of the National Famine Relief Committee, a group calling on the British government to allow food relief through the Allied blockade of occupied Greece. In 1963, Canada became the first international country to open an office – the name Oxfam came from their telegraph address – by 1965, the organization was officially known as Oxfam International.

Oxfam’s mission is tackling poverty at the root. Working with local organizations in almost 100 countries, they view poverty as a symptom of poor education, human rights violations, injustice and oppression. Their goal – alleviate and prevent poverty through sustainable local programs, with emphasis on women’s rights. Oxfam’s ” approach sets forth five irrefutable rights …..

  • the right to a sustainable livelihood
  • the right to basic social services
  • the right to life and security
  • the right to be heard
  • the right to an identity

Under a law passed by Industry Canada in 2011, all non-profit charitable organizations were required to re-apply for tax exempt status by October 17 of this year. Oxfam submittted this mission statement…

“to prevent and relieve poverty, vulnerability and suffering by improving the conditions of individuals whose lives, livelihood, security or well-being are at risk.”

All Industry Canada submissions needed final approval from the CRA (Canada Revenue Agency), CRA officials informed Oxfam “preventing poverty” was an unacceptable goal. “Relieving poverty is charitable, preventing it is not”.  In minds of the CRA, preventing poverty “may or may not involve poor people” .

“A group of millionaires could get together to prevent their poverty, and that would not be deemed a charitable purpose.”

Oxfam dropped the word “preventing” – resubmitting with this statement….

“Our mission statement still indicates we’re committed to ending poverty, but our charitable (purposes) do not use the word ‘end’ or ‘prevent’ — they use the word ‘alleviate.”‘

As for the CRA…

Philippe Brideau, spokesman for the Canada Revenue Agency, declined to provide information on the disagreement with Oxfam, saying “we do not comment on specific cases.”

However, he said legal precedents mean charities cannot help people not already impoverished from falling into poverty.

“Purposes that relieve poverty are charitable because they provide relief only to eligible beneficiaries, those in need,” Brideau said in an email.

“However, the courts have not found the risk of poverty as being equivalent to actually being in need. Therefore, as the courts have indicated, an organization cannot be registered with the explicit purpose of preventing poverty.”

He added that charities are still allowed to teach money management, budgeting and other life skills, which could lead to the prevention of poverty.

How interesting that Oxfam was “singled out” by Harper’s Employment Minister Jason Kenney a few months ago for opposition to Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Or that last July Oxfam signed a joint letter to Stephen Harper over allegations new Cabinet Members were briefed with a list of “friend and enemy stakeholder” organizations.

At this moment, 52 charities are under going audits – organizations like Amnesty International, David Suzuki Foundation, Canada Without Poverty and the United Church Kairos project (a faith based organization of Canadian churches fighting for justice, with vocal emphasis on environmental issues – opposition to the Northern Gateway pipeline and tar sand development). PEN Canada, a Toronto organization advocating freedom of speech, was added to the audit list when it publicly raised eyebrows over “muzzling” of scientists on Federal payrolls.

Harper handed the CRA 13 million dollars “special funding” to audit groups critical of Harper policy, in particular those opposing environmental issues. Ponder this Stephen Harper – you don’t fool anyone. Human rights, equality, women’s rights, clean water, hunger, oppression and freedom of speech might not mean anything to you – they mean everything to the majority outside your precious ivory tower – your bastion of hypocrisy and greed will fall long before your “mission” has a chance to perpetuate more suffering.