Myths and Facts: The Canadian Unitarian Council and Canadian Unitarians for Social Justice

Confusion and questions exist about the Canadian Unitarian Council (CUC) and the Canadian Unitarians for Social Justice (CUSJ), not just in public but among Canadian Unitarians. This article, written in consultation with CUSJ, aims to provide some answers and clarity about the relationship between CUC and CUSJ, and offers suggestions about how congregations and UUs can relate to CUSJ, and conform with the guidelines of the Income Tax Act and Canada Revenue Agency that govern all Canadian charities.

MYTH:  The CUC and CUSJ are the same organization / CUC runs CUSJ.

FACT: The CUC and CUSJ are completely separate organizations.

Each has its own governance process, board of directors, financial systems, activities and resources. The CUC is not responsible for CUSJ and vice versa. Membership in the CUC is made up of congregations – there are no individual members (it is an association of congregations), while CUSJ welcomes groups and individuals. What the two organizations have in common is a belief in Unitarian-Universalist (UU) principles, and a passion for social justice.

MYTH: The CUC can issue tax receipts for donations made to CUSJ. [1]

FACT: The CUC is a registered Canadian charity, and as such is governed by the rules of the Income Tax Act and Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) for charities.

CUSJ is not a charity. No charity can issue tax receipts on behalf of, or to, any organization that is not a charity; CRA guidelines specify that tax receipts can only be issued by charities to other registered Canadian charities (qualified donees). Donations made to organizations that are not charities (non-qualified donees), but which might be non-profits, do not qualify for tax receipts. Congregations should re-examine their practices of issuing tax receipts, and ensure that their practices are in line with CRA guidelines.

MYTH: CUC / charities cannot engage in political activity.

FACT: Charities can engage in non-partisan political activity up to 10% of their total resources as long as:

  1. The activity is NON-PARTISAN (ie the congregation does not support or oppose any specific political party or candidate or explicitly connect its views to any political party or candidate for public office);
  2. the majority of their resources are devoted to fulfilling their charitable purpose; and
  3. the political activity is connected or subordinate to the charity’s purpose.

Since the CUC and Canadian UU congregations are incorporated as religious charities, this means that most of their activities and resources also need to be directed to fulfilling their religious purposes. See the CRA guidance on charities and political activities.

Some of the activities which UU congregations participate in to effect social change, such as letter writing to politicians, marches, and advocacy, will probably be considered to be political activity. In the following specific circumstances, CRA policy provides that communication with the public or a public official is a charitable, rather than a political, activity:

  • When it is a public awareness campaign about the work of a charity or an issue related to that work, so long as the activity is connected and subordinate to the charity’s purpose;
  • When communicating with an elected representative or public official, even if the charity advocates that the law, policy or decision of any level of government in Canada or abroad be retained, opposed, or changed, provided that such activity is subordinate to the charity’s purpose and all representations: ƒ
    • relate to an issue that is connected to the charity’s purpose,
    • are well reasoned, and ƒ
    • do not contain information that is false, inaccurate or misleading.
  • When releasing the text of a representation before or after delivering it to the elected representative or public official, provided that the entire text is released and there is no explicit call to political action. “Call to political action” means encouraging the public to contact an elected representative or public official to urge them to retain, oppose, or change a law, policy or decision.

If you are not sure of the charitable purposes of your congregation, track down your incorporation papers or charitable purpose when you were originally registered as a charity.

Any political activity has to be non-partisan; partisan political activity is not allowed, for example, where only the opinions of a specific political party are espoused or criticised. For a thorough description of what is permissible and what is not, see the article on “Political Activity: What Churches and Charities Can and Cannot Do” by charity lawyer Jennifer Leddy and the CUC eNews article titled “Charities and Political Activity.”

As CUSJ is not a charity, it is not subject to these same guidelines, and may engage in certain activities that are prohibited to charities.

MYTH: Canadian UU congregations can form CUSJ chapters within their congregations.

FACT: Charities should provide supports and resources only to other registered charities.

The CUC strongly encourages those who want to form CUSJ chapters to do so independently as individuals, without allotting resources from the charity. Individuals are free to support organizations and activities of their choice; charities are subject to CRA sanctions and any decision to act outside of these guidelines must be made with full awareness of the consequences. See “Engaging in Allowable Activities” on the CRA website

MYTH: Canadian UU congregations can provide free/discounted rental space to CUSJ or other non-charities.

FACT: Rental space should be rented at fair market value to outside groups, members and the public. CRA guidelines are specific about undue benefits. However, weddings and memorials for congregational members are considered to be rites of passage offered to members of a religious community and part of the charitable purpose, and therefore would not be subject to the fair market rental rates. See the CUC eNews article on “UU Congregations, Rental Policies and Rites of Passage” for more detail.

CUSJ and the CUC have a covenant which describes the nature of the relationship between the two organizations, which respects the realities of the CUC operating as a charity and supports Canadian UUs in living our faith. Canadian Unitarians have blazed the way for federal same-sex marriage and medical assistance in dying legislation, and that same passion continues us to drive us to act for equity and justice.

Questions? Contact CUSJ at president@cusj.org or the CUC at executivedirector@cuc.ca.

Look for the series of articles from the CUC, titled “Congregations, Charities and Best Practices” published in the CUC eNews, which are aimed at sharing information about Canada Revenue Agency and Income Tax Act guidelines governing Canadian charities, with a particular focus on specifics for Canadian Unitarian Universalist congregations.


[1] Disclaimer: this article is provided as information only by the Canadian Unitarian Council, and should not be considered as legal advice, nor is it responsible for subsequent changes in law. Please consult a lawyer if specific legal advice is required. Back to text