What lies underneath: a deeper look into IRFAN-Canada's revocation file

 

The unfounded accusations that the Charities Directorate is anti-Muslim got more coverage with the Globe and Mail’s OpEd “If governments want to combat Islamophobia, they will need to take a hard look in the mirror“ written by Anver Emon and Nadia Hasan. Emon and Hasan’s one and only example of the Canadian government’s systemic prejudice towards Muslims is the Charities Directorate’s ‘unfair’ revoking of Muslim charities. Emon and Hasan clearly state that they can’t prove their allegations of anti-Muslim prejudice but believe their in-depth report on how three Muslim charities were revoked shows these Islamophobic biases in action.

Emon and Hasan find that the Charities Directorate’s audit process is highly problematic. The pattern of ‘coincidences’ in audit practices signal a Canadian government-wide systemic prejudice against Muslim charities. The Charities Directorate relies on biased evidence and it is overly influenced by politics and the party in power. They recommend that the Charites Directorate be brought to task and have its revocation powers suspended when auditing Muslim charities.

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These are very serious allegations. As Emon and Hasan call for greater inspection into the research, reports and findings of the Charities Directorate, their report also deserves deeper review.

Most of the evidence, the Charities Directorate’s files, is not public. These revocation files should be posted, given the severity of the accusations that attack its impartiality and integrity. However, the IRFAN-Canada file is public. The audit letters reads like a Le Carre intelligence thriller. If you have the time, read the Charities Directorate’s 287-page file on the revocation of IRFAN-Canada, or skip to the summary in its 2011 revocation letter.

If you don’t have time, here are the bare basics to judge for yourself the claims of the Charities Directorate’s ‘unfair’ anti-Muslim bias. 

 

IRFAN-Canada

In 2011, the Charities Directorate revoked IRFAN-Canada’s charity registration for, among many reasons, giving $14.6 million to Hamas, a listed terrorist entity under the Criminal Code.    

Here’s one reason of many in its revocation: IRFAN-Canada’s funding the Ramallah Zakat Committee.

  • In July 2004, the Charities Directorate told IRFAN-Canada that it considered Ramallah Zakat Committee to be a Hamas organization.
  • In November 2004 IRFAN-Canada told the Charities Directorate it had stopped all support of Ramallah Zakat Committee and promised to do greater due diligence and implement better controls.
  • In December 2004, one month later, IRFAN-Canada began funding Ramallah Zakat Committee again, as the Charities Directorate discovered in the second audit.

 

No hint of suspicion?

Emon and Hasan contend that the Charities Directorate’s audit was unfair as IRFAN-Canada had no idea it was under suspicion of funding terrorists and thought this was just a regular audit of its books. One of their key findings is that Canada’s biased policies lead to audits based on stereotypes, race, religion and proclivities to violence. This implies that the Charities Directorate shows up to audit a Muslim charity with the prejudice that it is linked to terrorists.

“There was no indication or hint that IRFAN-Canada was under suspicion of funding Hamas.”

Let’s get some facts straight. The general manager of IRFAN-Canada was Rasem Abdel-Majid. Before being hired by IRFAN-Canada, Abdel-Majid was the Chairman of an organization called Jerusalem Fund for Human Services (JFHS). Between 1992 and 2000, Abdel-Majid tried to register JFHS as a Canadian charity. The Charities Directorate wrote at least three letters to Abdel-Majid that listed its detailed concerns about links to Hamas. 

“There is reason for the Department to be concerned that it is operating as part of a network providing organizational and financial support to Hamas.”

Charities Directorate, letter to Abdel-Majid, March 1998

Perhaps thwarted, in February 2001 Jerusalem Fund for Human Services transferred its assets to IRFAN-Canada, a registered charity. IRFAN-Canada used the Jerusalem Fund for Human Services name for fundraising, gave money to the same agencies in the West Bank, moved into JFHS’s offices in Mississauga and Jerusalem, and hired Abdel-Majid as its General Manager. Other JFHS staff, both in Canada and in the West Bank, joined IRFAN-Canada.

The Jerusalem Fund for Human Services finally had its registered charity status, just under the new name IRFAN-Canada.

When the Charities Directorate did the first audit of IRFAN-Canada in 2003, it had 10 years of concerns that Abdel-Majid wanted to fund Hamas. Is it any surprise that it probed IRFAN-Canada for details about funding Hamas?

 

Under the Harper regime?

Emon and Hasan postulate that this targeting of Muslim charities is partisan. They state that they “identified a bizarre approach that has been adopted by the CRA that to us signal deeper systemic problems: IRFAN-Canada, a humanitarian organization that came under watch during the Harper regime”.

This is false and divisive. Terrorism isn’t a wedge issue in Canadian politics; all parties are tough on terrorism.

The Government of Canada is taking very decisive steps to address the global threat posed by terrorism, by terrorists around the world.”

Wayne Easter, Canada’s Solicitor General, 2003

First, it wasn’t Harper. IRFAN-Canada was first audited and put on notice by the Charities Directorate in October 2003. That would be under the Martin government.

In addition, the Charities Directorate’s concerns about terrorism financing began nearly twenty years before. The 1985 Air India tragedy, masterminded by Canadian-Sikh extremists, showed clear links of Canadian charities used to channel money to terrorists causes abroad. The Air India tragedy was one impetus into the G7’s 1989 Financial Action Task Force (FATF), to which Canada is a founding member along with 36 other countries. FATF’s Special Recommendation VIII requires international co-ordination on financial transactions to combat the abuse of charities and non-profit organizations which are vulnerable due to their global work. Charity auditors began to inspect charities, particularly those that send money internationally, under the Mulroney government.

In the specific case of IRFAN-Canada, the Charities Directorate’s notes refer to intelligence from a wire-tap transcript from the Muslim Brotherhood conference in Philadelphia in October 1993. Here, plans were discussed to create a network of registered charities in Western countries that would raise money for Hamas. A Canadian was overheard at this conference, talking about his organization, Jerusalem Committee for Human Services, its fundraising efforts, and its unsuccessful attempts to register as a Canadian charity. According to these notes, Abdel-Majid attended this conference. To set the record straight, Abdel-Majid came under watch during the Campbell government.

 

Political interference?

Was the Charities Directorate’s essential impartiality and objectiveness swayed by politicians?

Emon and Hasan suggest that the Charities Directorate was politically influenced. It states that the Charities Directorate’s first audit of IRFAN-Canada was due to Opposition MP’s Stockwell Day’s comments in the House of Parliament in October 2003.

It was this highly partisan House of Commons Floor debate that began IRFAN-Canada’s odyssey with the Charities Directorate.”

The record shows that IRFAN-Canada, at least its General Manager, began a dance with the Charities Directorate ten years before October 2003.

There are alternatives to who prompted the Charities Directorate’s audit. The Charities Directorate in its daily work gets tips, some anonymous, about charities. Like Neighbourhood Watch and Crime Stoppers, the public is asked to call in with any concerns. Also, the Association of Palestinian Arab Canadians – a Muslim association - posted a report on its website in May 2003 linking IRFAN-Canada and Jerusalem Fund for Human Services. This website post is referenced in the Charities Directorate's file.

On an aside, and while on the subject of political influence, Abdel-Majid is no wallflower. In his attempts to get Jerusalem Fund for Human Services registered as a charity, he petitioned the Minister of National Revenue, Herb Dhaliwal. He also hired Capital Hill Group, a major political lobby firm, to press for its charitable registration. Working on JFHS’s behalf, veteran lobbyists David Angus and Steve Dover met with the Charities Directorate’s Assistant Deputy Minister in June 1998 and again in July 2000.

The Charities Directorate withstood these political pressures and rejected JFHS’s charity application time after time on concerns about it funding Hamas.

IRFAN-Canada accused the Charities Directorate of being unfair and being motivated by politics when its suspended IRFAN-Canada’s charity registration in 2010. The Charities Directorate wrote:

"This unsubstantiated allegation is completely unfounded. The CRA’s actions in relation to IRFAN-Canada’s suspension decision have been handled completely within the public service and have not been the subject of any directives from any political level of government."

Cathy Hawara, Acting Director General, Charities Directorate, April 6, 2010

 

 ‘Good’ Hamas and ‘bad’ Hamas

Emon and Hasan raise the issue about Canada’s foreign policy towards Hamas. Some countries recognize a distinction between the ‘good’ Hamas (its social and humanitarian work) as distinct from ‘bad’ Hamas (its political and military activities). Can charities give money to ‘good’ Hamas organizations for humanitarian aid in the West Bank and Gaza, especially since Hamas is the fairly elected government?

This is a legitimate foreign policy question. Some countries don’t see Hamas as a terrorist organization. Other countries, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and Paraguay, take a nuanced view and recognize the distinction between the ‘good’ Hamas and the ‘bad’ Hamas.

Not Canada. In November 2002, Canada’s Criminal Code listed the entire Hamas entity – the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ - as a terrorist organization. As such, Canadian charities can’t give money to any Hamas organization. The Charities Directorate is duty bound to enforce Canada’s laws.

 

Conclusion

Emon and Hasan believe that our “government-sponsored structural discrimination creates the condition for a bureaucratic culture of Islamophobia”. The Canadian government overtly enables this. As such, the Charities Directorate is unfairly revoking Muslim charities and should be brought to task. It recommends that, in audits of Muslim charities, the Charities Directorate’s powers be suspended.

The case study of IRFAN-Canada instead shows the opposite. The Charities Directorate used intelligence, exercised generous patience, and gave the benefit of the doubt. It does its job to ensure charities comply with the rules. This protects the integrity of Canada’s charity sector so the public can give to charities with greater trust. The Charities Directorate doesn’t make the rules. But it administers the rules in an impartial and professional manner without any evidence of anti-Muslim bias. IRFAN-Canada’s charity revocation was due solely to it breaking Canadian laws.

There is no question that racism, discrimination and prejudice are serious issues Canada needs to face and address. But the Charities Directorate's auditing of Muslim charities isn't the problem.

 

Learn more: Charity Intelligence's report on Bogus claims that Charities Directorate is on a witch-hunt of Muslim charities

 

Sources:

Emon and Hasan, “If governments want to combat Islamophobia they will need to take a hard look in the mirror,” Opinion Globe and Mail, July 20, 2021

Anver M. Emon and Nadia Z. Hasan, Under Layered Suspicion: A Review of CRA Audits of Muslim-Led Charities, June 2021.

Canadian Charity Law, International Relief Fund for the Afflicted and Needy Canada (IRFAN-Canada) has status revoked, April 2011

IRFAN-Canada stated that “it never knowingly dealt with Hamas nor with organizations known or credibly alleged to be controlled or directed by Hamas”. In July 1998, in response to JHFS’s application to be a registered charity, the Charities Directorate had informed Abdel-Majid it considered Ramallah Zakat Committee to be a Hamas organization. Appendix D: Additional Issues Raised in the February 24, 2010 letter, p.2.

At the 1993 Palestinian Committee meetings of the Philadelphia Conference, wire-tap transcripts regarding which charities are Hamas-affiliated: “the Ramallah Zakat Committee is ours, including its management and officers” Appendix A – Preliminary Fairness Concerns p.19 

Under Layered Suspicion, “There was no indication or hint to IRFAN-Canada that the audit was triggered by accusations of terrorism financing, that its records would be subjected to an anti-terrorism financing investigation regime, or that the level of scrutiny paid to its files might in any way be inordinate as compared to any other audit of randomly selected charities.” p.65

Charities Directorate letter March 23, 1998, a 12-page rejection letter detailing concerns and associations with financing Hamas,

Charities Directorate CRA Notice of Intent to Revoke, Appendix A – Preliminary Fairness Concerns, March 9, 2011, page 19

Under Layered Suspicion, p.65 Sourced from IRFAN-Canada’s minutes of a conference call between J.Torrance and Lila Farhang (Charities Directorate) and N Syed, R. Abdel-Majid and S. Kaoud (IRFAN-Canada).

 

 

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