OTTAWA — The Supreme Court of Canada will not look at whether the suspension of a Muslim charity should have been put on hold while an administrative challenge of the penalty played out.
The Canada Revenue Agency levied a one-year suspension against Human Concern International in July 2021 following an audit by the revenue agency's charities directorate that flagged concerns about six initiatives.
Ottawa-based HCI objected to the suspension through the revenue agency's internal administrative appeal process.
At the same time, it applied to the federal Tax Court to delay application of the suspension until the revenue agency had considered the objection.
In August 2021, a Tax Court judge declined to grant a stay of the suspension.
In a March 2022 decision, the Federal Court of Appeal upheld the judge's ruling, saying HCI had not raised any error warranting intervention.
That prompted the charity to take its case to the Supreme Court.
HCI continued to pursue the legal right to a freeze even though the suspension ended last summer and the charity was able to resume issuing tax receipts to donors.
The group pressed on in court on the basis that the case had significant repercussions for the charitable sector as a whole.
In its application seeking a hearing in the Supreme Court, HCI said the rule of law in Canada would be "significantly diminished'' if the court did not step in.
The charity argued federal agencies would be empowered to impose penalties before an airing of the issues — and prior to a determination of guilt.
As usual, the Supreme Court gave no reasons Thursday for refusing to hear the case.
"We are disappointed by this decision," HCI executive director Mahmuda Khan said. "What this means is that charities will remain vulnerable to CRA audit decisions that could lead to the suspension or revocation of their charitable status."
Imposing a suspension without allowing a charity a reasonable option for a stay while it appeals to an independent adjudicator is a denial of natural justice in instances where the charity may be unfairly treated, she said.
"The suspension of a charity should not be taken lightly — it is a serious issue that has far-reaching implications on donors and beneficiaries," Khan added.
"This is an important matter that impacts all charities, and so we can only now hope for legislative changes by Parliament."
The revenue agency's appeals branch recently concluded its administrative review of the suspension and denied HCI's appeal. As a result, HCI has exhausted all avenues of appeal.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 2, 2023.
Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press