Skip to content
RIDR - Standing Committee

Human Rights




OTTAWA, Monday, November 28, 2022

The Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights met with videoconference this day at 4 p.m. [ET] to examine such issues as may arise from time to time relating to human rights generally.

Senator Salma Ataullahjan (Chair) in the chair.


The Chair: I am Salma Ataullahjan, senator from Toronto and chair of the committee. Today we are conducting a meeting of the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights.

I would like to introduce the members of the committee who are participating in this meeting. To my left is Senator Woo, who represents British Columbia; Senator Omidvar, who represents the province of Ontario; to my right, Senator Gerba, who represents the province of Quebec and Senator Manning who represents Newfoundland and Labrador.

Our committee is studying Islamophobia under its general order of reference. Our study will cover, among other matters, the role of Islamophobia with respect to online and offline violence against women, gender discrimination, as well as discrimination in employment, including Islamophobia in the federal public service.

Our study will also examine the sources of Islamophobia, its impact on individuals, including mental health and physical safety, and possible solutions and government responses.

After holding two meetings in June in Ottawa, our committee held public meetings in September in Vancouver, Edmonton, Quebec City and Toronto. In addition, we visited mosques in each of those cities. We are now continuing our public meetings in Ottawa.

Let me provide some details about our meeting today. This afternoon, we shall have two one-hour panels with a number of department officials, to be following a third panel of 45 minutes with one last witness. In each panel, we shall hear from the witnesses, and then the senators will have a Q&A session.

I will now introduce our first panel of witnesses. Each witness has been asked to make an opening statement of five minutes. We shall hear from all the witnesses, and then turn to questions from senators.

I wish to welcome our first witness joining us by video conference today. From the Canada Revenue Agency, we have Geoff Trueman, Assistant Commissioner, Legislative Policy and Regulatory Affairs Branch; and Sharmila Khare, Director General, Charities Directorate, Legislative Policy and Regulatory Affairs Branch.

I now invite Mr. Trueman to make his presentation.

Geoff Trueman, Assistant Commissioner, Legislative Policy and Regulatory Affairs Branch, Canada Revenue Agency: Thank you and good afternoon, Madam Chair. Thank you very much for the invitation to appear before you and members of the committee today. In my remarks, I will be discussing the role of the Charities Directorate as the federal regulator of charities and, in particular, its approach to compliance and audits.

Charities play an increasingly important role in our society and provide valuable services to all Canadians. Accordingly, the Charities Directorate is committed to ensuring that registered charities operate in a regulatory environment that supports their very important work.

Given the many privileges it provides, registration as a charity also comes with an obligation to follow the longstanding rules for charities under the law. The Charities Directorate is responsible for administering the provisions of the Income Tax Act as they relate to registered charities and for making sure all registered charities comply with the requirements of the Income Tax Act and the common law. That is a critical factor in maintaining the public’s confidence in the charitable sector.

The Charities Directorate uses a risk-based approach to compliance, which ensures that only those registered charities at the greatest risk of serious non-compliance are selected for audit. Although the Charities Directorate’s broader compliance efforts consider the overall risk of non-compliance with the Income Tax Act, the Review and Analysis Division, RAD, audit resources are only used for files where a risk of terrorist abuse has been identified. Under no circumstances does the Charities Directorate select charities for audit based on factors such as faith or denomination, nor would such factors influence the outcome of an audit. Rather, it is the facts of the audit that will determine the outcome.

The risk-based approach to compliance is informed by the Government of Canada’s National Inherent Risk Assessment, or NIRA, a shared understanding among government agencies of the risks, including the actors, that pose the greatest threat to Canada’s national security. Since 2008 when the Review and Analysis Division was created, the Charities Directorate has completed a total of almost 8,000 audits. Of those audits, 39 have been conducted by the Review and Analysis Division. Audits focused on terrorist financing represent a small proportion of the directorate’s overall audit program at approximately 0.5%.

I would also like to reaffirm that the Charities Directorate is steadfast in its dedication to diversity, inclusion, and anti-racism. In support of the CRA’s core values of professionalism, integrity, respect and collaboration, the Charities Directorate pursues training activities to educate all employees on unconscious bias and empathy in service. Furthermore, the Charities Directorate has rigorous procedures in place to ensure that research and decision-making are challenged and reviewed by multiple staff to ensure fairness and accuracy.

The Charities Directorate is committed to providing world-class client service to Canadians, and to that end, we are continuously exploring ways to improve our programs and uphold our services to Canadians.

In closing, I would like to briefly touch upon the ongoing examination of the Office of the Taxpayers’ Ombudsperson. The Charities Directorate is continuing to support that important work, and we are providing, to the greatest extent possible, the information that is requested by the office of the ombudsperson in order to conduct its examination. The protection of taxpayer information is of utmost importance to the CRA, as the confidence and trust that Canadians have in the CRA is a cornerstone of Canada’s voluntary tax system.

Madam Chair, with those opening remarks, I would now be happy, along with my colleague, Ms. Khare, to answer any question questions that you and the senators have.

The Chair: Ms. Khare, are you not making a presentation?

Sharmila Khare, Director General, Charities Directorate, Legislative Policy and Regulatory Affairs Branch, Canada Revenue Agency: We decided to provide joint remarks for the CRA to leave you with more time for questions.

The Chair: Very well. We will start with questions from senators.

Senator Omidvar: Thank you, Mr. Trueman and Ms. Khare, for being with us today. Canadians are generous people, and the work you do is important because Canadians need confidence that their charitable dollars are being spent as they should be.

We heard last week from the National Council of Canadian Muslims and, before that, from other witnesses in this study. We also heard from the Taxpayers’ Ombudsperson himself last week.

I think my question is to Ms. Khare, but I will leave it up to you both to determine who should answer it. I refer to the findings of the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group, where they conclude that Islamophobia exists in the CRA because six of eight charities that were revoked between 2008 and 2015 happened to be Muslim charities. That is 75%. They take this evidence as proof of Islamophobia in the system, particularly within the CRA. You know from the Islamophobia summit that was held in 2020 that the treatment of Muslim charities was raised as a priority.

What is your response to those allegations?

Ms. Khare: It’s a very good question.

In terms of the six of eight number that has been circulating, I think we need to put that into context, as Mr. Trueman just said. Since 2008-09 when RAD was established, as a directorate, we have completed almost 8,000 audits of registered charities. Within our RAD program, we’ve completed 39 audits.

Those audits have led to a range of outcomes. One outcome is revocation, and that is reserved for the most serious instances of non-compliance with the provisions of the Income Tax Act. That outcome was the case in 14 out of 39 audits. We’ve also closed RAD audits with outcomes such as compliance agreements, which are an understanding of how the organization will operate going forward as well as education letters.

Vis-à-vis the allegations that there is Islamophobia within the Charities Directorate based on this particular study, I think the minister did launch the review with the ombudsperson to look into the concerns that have been raised by Muslim-led charities. I’m looking forward to that report and the recommendations that come out of that, because I hope they will help us improve our services to all charities, to those in particular.

The minister also appointed, in a very proactive manner, two members to the Advisory Committee on the Charitable Sector to bring the perspective of Muslim-led charities to the table. I sit on the Advisory Committee on the Charitable Sector, as does Mr. Trueman. It provides us with an opportunity to learn more and to understand. We are very committed to learning more and improving our outreach to all charities that we service.

I think I can start with that. I don’t know if you have a follow-up question?

Senator Omidvar: I do have a follow-up question, with the permission of the chair, because they build off each other.

The Chair: Please go ahead.

Senator Omidvar: You gave us a pretty general answer. I appreciate that, Ms. Khare. However, even to an outsider, the startling fact is that six of eight charities audited by RAD, six of eight charities revoked, were Muslim charities. We don’t know the reason behind their revocation. You likely do.

Can you comment on the number? Would you not agree with the Canadian public — at least, with the senators here — that this is an extraordinary high number of charities of one religion alone that are revoked? Would you not agree with that?

Ms. Khare: I’m not sure I want to get into a numbers debate right now. When we look at the RAD program in particular, it is a niche compliance program. RAD audits are only undertaken when there is a risk of terrorism abuse. We’re looking for some type of linkage between what the activities of the charities are and potential links to threat actors.

We’re not working within a framework that we have established and created at the CRA. We are part of a whole-of-government approach when it comes to national security. The Department of Finance is responsible for something called the National Inherent Risk Assessment. This document — the last publication was in 2015 — is available on the Government of Canada’s website. It summarizes where threat actors pose a risk of terrorist financing in Canada, and it sets out the shared understanding of risk across all of the national security partners.

If you look at the risk actors and the current risk environment in Canada, I think you could reach the conclusion that many of the organizations that are listed in the National Inherent Risk Assessment do come from racialized communities. However, that is not a CRA document. It is something that is led by the Department of Finance and we are part of a whole-of-government understanding of the risks posed in this space of terrorist financing.

Senator Omidvar: Thank you, Ms. Khare. You mentioned the tax ombudsperson a number of times. Mr. Boileau appeared last week and he agreed with our conclusion that he has been given a mandate to complete. Yet, he is unable to complete it because one hand is tied behind his back. He is unable to get the information from you that is required and necessary for him to complete his report because it is heavily redacted. He is not able to get the unredacted version because of national security-related aspects of your work, even though some members of his staff may have top-secret clearance. Can you comment on that? Are you making it easier for him? Are you trying to find solutions? We’re all waiting for this report and we just heard, last week, that his report will be incomplete at best.

Ms. Khare: We do understand the ombudsperson has expressed concerns about the mandate that he’s been provided with. We have some formal mechanisms in the Canada Revenue Agency for having conversations with the ombudsperson’s office. That is something we are pursuing.

With respect to the protection of confidential taxpayer information, we do have responsibilities as public servants at the CRA to protect this information. That’s fundamental to ensuring that Canadians have trust in their tax regulator. Vis-à-vis the ombudsperson’s access to confidential taxpayer information, that is not something that we can provide without the authorization of the charity.

If a charity provides the ombudsperson with authorization to access their files — I see that you’re shaking your head at me.

Senator Omidvar: The testimony of the ombudsperson is very fresh in our minds. Even when the charity gives the authorization for accessing the files, sections of the information are still heavily redacted. So it comes back to the question of open information for the tax ombudsperson.

Ms. Khare: There still will be some information that is redacted. If the charity’s file contains third-party information that would be redacted.

When it comes to our risk assessments and our audit techniques, that is not something that we share.

The Chair: Final question and then I really must cede the ground to my colleagues. Did you make the minister aware that the tax ombudsperson would have limited access to the information before the mandate was handed down?

Ms. Khare: I’m sorry, that’s not a question I can answer because I wasn’t part of that discussion.

Senator Omidvar: Thank you.

Senator Manning: Thank you to our witnesses. I want to follow up on the previous senator’s questions along the same lines concerning the ombudsperson and his access to information.

What changes to the Income Tax Act, or other legislation, or policies, would be necessary to give the ombudsperson access to complete taxpayers’ files in this context — especially when he has been given permission by the taxpayer to access that information? There seems to be some type of roadblock in place. Can you suggest to us any changes to the legislation or policies that will be necessary so the ombudsperson can do the work that he’s been asked to do?

Ms. Khare: Right now, the ombudsperson’s mandate is focused on service. It does not relate to the administration of tax provisions. If you wanted to grant more fulsome access, we’d need some type of change to section 241 of the Income Tax Act.

Senator Manning: There’s no suggestions you’re willing to make the changes necessary for the ombudsperson to be able to do his work?

Ms. Khare: That’s somewhat outside of my jurisdiction to speak to tax policy and how I would want to amend the Income Tax Act. Basically, the way section 241 is set out currently would need to be modified.

Senator Manning: Okay. Well, maybe I’ll ask this question: Are there any possible solutions that would not require legislative amendments such as cooperation between the ombudsperson and the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency, or NSIRA? If so, what would the advantages and disadvantages of this approach be? Putting aside legislation, is there some solution that could be worked out among the parties that are involved here without going to a change in legislation?

Ms. Khare: I think that there are a variety of other options that could be considered so there is something called NSIRA. Ministers can ask NSIRA to carry out reviews vis-à-vis national security. I’ve never organized such a review, or been involved in requesting such a review, but they do have expertise in the area of national security.

Senator Manning: Our committee has heard about different types of structural biases that may be present in the CRA, including biases that cast Muslims as outsiders or foreigners and biases that view religious activities as primarily those that are grounded in Christian ideals and practices.

To what extent is structural bias against Muslims present in the CRA? What systems or training do you have in place to prevent or address structural bias against Muslims?

Ms. Khare: I do not believe there is structural bias targeting Muslim-led charities within the Canada Revenue Agency. I would say, as part of the leadership team and leading a directorate of 300 employees, we take issues such as anti-racism very seriously. It is not something we want to see in our directorate at all and I would say the whole agency shares that view.

We’re always wanting to learn more and improve our processes. Our officers and employees have opportunities to learn about unconscious bias, microaggressions and improving empathy in service. Our auditors — in particular, our auditors in the RAD division — undergo specialized training through the Canada School of Public Service and through an external learning provider called the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners. Those types of trainings help us identify our own unconscious biases so they don’t present themselves in the decision making at work.

We have policies and procedures that help guide the work we do, and decisions are made as a team. In a decision to audit a charity, we use a risk-based approach. It is not based on one individual’s view that a particular charity should be audited. Decisions are reached as a group. That is also a way to ensure that individual biases do not play into the equation.

Senator Manning: Is the training mandatory or on a voluntary basis for your leadership team and staff?

Ms. Khare: The training on unconscious bias that’s available to all members of the Canada Revenue Agency is not mandatory but highly encouraged. Prior to becoming a director general, I was director of a division in the Charities Directorate, and we took this training as an entire division because we felt it was important. Depending on the type you work you do in the Review and Analysis Division, if you are an auditor, all of our auditors are sent on multiple courses relating to unconscious bias, both internally and externally.


Senator Gerba: I thank the witnesses for being here.

You are providing us with essential information, and the Canada Revenue Agency — the CRA — audit services are important tools for our security and our economy.

That said, last week at this committee, we heard from the Muslim Association of Canada, which launched a challenge accusing the CRA’s audit practices of Islamophobia. According to a representative of the association, the CRA’s audits tended to show that the Muslim Association of Canada is a terrorist organization.

First, I would like to hear your comments on this accusation. I would also like to know if there are provisions to prevent this kind of proven Islamophobic practice, given its very high percentage. We realize that something is not right with the audits.

I would like to hear what you have to say, Ms. Khare, about this accusation of Islamophobia. Earlier, you said that there is no structural process that would lead to this type of practice but the reality is that the percentage is very high for Muslim organizations.

Ms. Khare: Thank you very much for the question.

I can’t comment on that particular case. I’m not at liberty to discuss an audit that is currently under way right now, but I can provide some information about the audit process we have in place.

First, there is a lot of interaction between the agency and the charity being audited. Information is submitted, questions are asked, discussions are held and site visits are conducted. Before reaching a final decision, we send a procedural fairness letter in which we provide a full and detailed list of our concerns. The charity has the opportunity to respond before we make a final decision.

Once we’ve made a decision on a revocation or penalty, the charity has the opportunity to challenge our decision. At the Canada Revenue Agency, we have a directorate that specializes in appealed decisions. It’s completely separate from the Charities Directorate. The charity has the opportunity to have an independent party review the decision.


The Chair: Ms. Khare, I think we already heard that. I think Senator Gerba was asking about Islamophobia. That’s what we’ve heard consistently from everyone who has come before us. We know how you work. I don’t think we need a lesson in the works of the CRA. Many of us are very familiar with it.

If you can answer the questions directly — you can have a short answer or a long answer — but there are other senators in the room who want to ask questions.

We’re familiar with how you work and I think there are some misgivings there. This is based on testimony we’ve heard from people.

Senator Gerba, do you have another question?

Senator Gerba: Yes, I do.


In fact, what I’d really like to understand is what Mr. Flegel told us here in committee, that the greatest threat would be from white supremacist groups.

I’d like to know if the methods and processes in place at the CRA also apply to these white supremacist groups. What percentage of these groups have been audited compared to Muslim groups?


Ms. Khare: In the Charities Directorate, in our specialized program in RAD, we are driving off of the National Inherent Risk Assessment that was published in 2015 and that is led by the Department of Finance. If we see a charity that is linked to a threat actor, as outlined in the National Inherent Risk Assessment, that will be a flag for us and something we will look into further. If the National Inherent Risk Assessment was to change, the flags for us would change as well.


Senator Gerba: Do you have any data to make that comparison? We now realize that, in fact, the risk comes much more from white supremacists, who tend to lead that Islamophobia.

At the agency, are there arrangements in place or is there a data collection system to compare or validate this information?


Ms. Khare: Again, when it comes to the RAD program, we’re really looking at the National Inherent Risk Assessment. When it comes to our compliance program in general, if we see that charitable resources are not being used to further charitable purposes for whatever reason, that would be a flag for audit.

The Chair: I think you’re not answering her question, and I can see Senator Gerba shaking her head in frustration. She’s asking about the rise of right-wing groups. Have any of those groups been audited? It’s a simple question. Yes or no. Muslim charities are being audited. Have any of the right-wing groups been audited?

Ms. Khare: I don’t think we collect our information in that manner.


Senator Gerba: To improve transparency, do you plan to implement that data collection system that will allow us to have clear, valid and verifiable information?


Ms. Khare: There is some interest in collecting information, if I understand correctly, on the religious denominations of charities. Sometimes we know this because the organization is advancing religion. Other times it’s harder to know because the organization is established to promote education or health or relieve poverty, so the link to the religion is not as apparent.

I do wonder if it would even be appropriate to collect that information and whether that in and of itself would lead to the perception of bias or discrimination, if more of that information was collected by the CRA. I’m not sure what compliance purpose it would serve.


Senator Gerba: One of the witnesses we heard from, also here, told us that he was even afraid to apply for funding. His organization has funding problems because he fears being associated with terrorist groups. If there isn’t some transparency in the selection of organizations to be audited, that’s a problem.

What’s your opinion about that?

Ms. Khare: It saddens me that the charitable sector is afraid of us because we want to engage with the sector. We want to offer education and publications that will help organizations follow the rules under the Income Tax Act.


I think we really are here to help the charitable sector. I would never want the charitable sector to be afraid of us as a regulator. We have a regulatory responsibility to ensure that all charities are in compliance with the Income Tax Act, but we also recognize that charities are the social fabric of this country. We don’t want them to be scared of the regulator. We want them to come to us and seek guidance.

The Chair: Thank you.

Senator Omidvar: I’d like to underline the importance of Senator Gerba’s question. We tap in the dark, colleagues, here on the screen without evidence, and I think the call for disaggregated information about the type of religion is important.

My question to you: Are there policy, legislative or regulatory barriers to you collecting this data?

Ms. Khare: When a charity seeks registration as a charity, it is assigned a category code. It’s assigned one code, and that really is a reflection of what it mostly does, the majority of the charitable activities it undertakes.

In general, our T3010 form is a compliance tool, so we collect information that is necessary for the administration of the Income Tax Act. It also serves a public transparency role. It’s a bit of a balancing act. How would having more information on the religious affiliation of a charity help me in my role as a regulator? None, because I don’t look at the denomination.

Senator Omidvar: That’s actually not the question I was asking.

The Chair: Could you please stick to answering the questions?

Senator Omidvar: You know the file. I know it too, but you’re working on the inside of it. Not collecting data, does that come from legislation? Do we need to look at a legislative lever as a recommendation if we want to proceed with that? Is it a regulation that prevents you from collecting the data under the head of religion? We would like to know, and I think the public would like to know, how many Catholic charities, Protestant charities, Muslim charities, et cetera, there are, and then we can compare apples with apples, instead of tapping in the dark. It’s all religion, it’s all good stuff. It mostly is; I think we all know that.

I want to know what it is that prevents you from collecting that data.

Mr. Trueman: Thank you for the question, senator. It’s a very good one.

Generally, under the Income Tax Act, we are able and allowed to collect information that is directly relevant to the provision or framework of the tax that we are administering. In the case of charities, we collect information at the time the charity is registered under which of the four heads of power, for example, because that is a provision, something we need in order to make sure the charity can qualify for registration.

Beyond that, we do not collect information on religion. For example, when I file my individual income tax return, it is strictly about the income I have earned, the deductions I may have. It is not about anything extraneous.

To answer your question simply, we would need a legislative amendment to require us to collect the information you’re looking for, yes.

Senator Omidvar: Thank you. That’s the answer I was looking for.

The Chair: In 2021, there was a report by Anver Emon and Nadia Hasan entitled Under Layered Suspicion. It found that the federal government’s anti-terrorism financing and anti-radicalization policies “. . . create the conditions for potential structural bias against Muslim-led charities.”

What is your position regarding allegations of structural biases against Muslim-led charities?

Also, the Muslim charities represented 0.47% of registered charities that were audited in 2015. From 2008 to 2015, 75% of all charities revoked by the Revenue and Analysis Division, RAD, were Muslim charities. Could you confirm these statistics? Could you please explain how the RAD process works? To say you don’t know it’s a Muslim charity, a lot of them will have “Islam” in their name or do work primarily in Muslim countries, so one gets an understanding of the kind of work those charities do.

Mr. Trueman: Starting with the latter part of the question about the statistics, I cannot confirm the 0.7%. As Ms. Khare noted, we don’t keep statistics on charities by denomination. I’m not able to confirm that number.

In one of the papers either by Dr. Emon or by the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group, there was the number of 12 charities being revoked that were Muslim. I think that is correct. When a charity is revoked, those documents can be requested. The notice of intention to revoke is a public document. People are able to access those documents if they choose.

Also, to come back to the broader part of the question, the issues raised by Dr. Emon in his report clearly link to the National Inherent Risk Assessment that Ms. Khare mentioned earlier. When you look at that document, there are, indeed, references to certain geopolitical areas, certain countries, a description of threat, actors, and then a description of why charities may be at high risk of abuse for terrorist financing.

It is that framework that is a substantial underpinning of the work that the Review and Analysis Division does. That, I think, is what drives the point that the work undertaken by RAD reflects these national security interests.

The Chair: In 2015, the former Director General of the Charities Directorate, Cathy Hawara, reported to the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence that RAD had completed 16 audits of charities between 2008 and 2015, eight of which resulted in revocations. We have been discussing this ever since we started this study. Can you tell us from 2015 to date, how many more audits have RAD completed and how many more charities have RAD revoked or sanctioned?

If you can’t share the exact numbers with us, can you tell us under 20, under 50 or under 100?

Ms. Khare: Since 2008, RAD has completed 39 audits in total and in 14 of those audits the result was a revocation. Since the number eight you mentioned, it’s another six.

The Chair: The CRA reports all revoked charities on its website. Why is the CRA refusing to identify which charities were specifically audited under RAD’s mandate? There’s no reason that this should be protected by section 241 of the Income Tax Act.

Ms. Khare: We will only put information out on our website regarding revocations, fines or penalties.

If an audit ended with an education letter, no change or compliance agreement, that is not something that would be available on our website. All this relates to what we can and cannot share under section 241 of the Income Tax Act.

The Chair: Muslim charities — again, one of the senators has touched on that — have reported extremely aggressive and intimidating audits, lengthy audits and long waits for findings and decisions.

Why do the CRA’s policies on selection auditing practices and decision enforcement differ between RAD and the standard charities compliance division?

Ms. Khare: It is true that the audit process can take some time. It can take some time in our regular audit stream. It can take some time in the RAD audit stream. I would say, in general, the RAD audits are very complex. We are working with very sensitive matters that take perhaps a little bit more time than a regular compliance audit to complete, because we have to get it right either way.

If there is a compliance issue that needs to be well documented. There needs to be exchanged with the organization and there is no issue, the decision needs to be well documented as well.

The Chair: My final question is, what percentage of the CRA workforce is Muslim? Are you doing anything to attract, retain and promote Muslim employees?

Ms. Khare: As a public servant, I have never disclosed my religion to my employer. That is not information that is tracked by public servants.

I could say that within the Charities Directorate you will find a representation of the country of Canada.

The Chair: Thank you. If you can be brief with your answers, we have about 10 minutes left.

Senator Omidvar: I have a brief question, still digging for some evidence and proof, because I think it is evidence that helps us along as opposed to anecdotes.

I want to, again underline how much I, in particular, appreciate the work of the CRA. I’ve worked in charities all my life. The charities I’ve worked with have been audited. I know how disruptive it can be. But it’s all for the purpose of compliance and transparency. I get that as well.

Fourteen revocations of the 39 audits that were conducted by RAD, that’s not a large number. Are you able to tell us that, of these 14 revocations, how many were revoked under the head of religion, education, relief of poverty or other? It is only 14, Ms. Khare.

Ms. Khare: I don’t have that information with me. I’d have to go back to the notices of intention to revoke and have a look.

I can say quite comfortably that, within that group, there will be charities that advance religion, that relieve poverty and perhaps advance education.

It’s not information that I generally track. It would be information we would need to collect.

The Chair: If that information is available, could you please share it with us?

Ms. Khare: Sure.


Senator Gerba: I’d like to come back to Ms. Khare. You told us earlier that you provide training to prevent structural biases. Did I understand correctly that you have training to prevent and eliminate structural biases within the agency?


Ms. Khare: We have courses that are offered at the Canada Revenue Agency. The Canada School of Public Service has a range of courses that all government employees can take.

All of the auditors in the RAD division take courses offered by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners. Public Safety Canada and the Privy Council Office also have some specialized courses for those working in the field of national security.

We are all trying to eliminate our unconscious bias when we’re working in the audit space and, in particular, in the national security space.


Senator Gerba: If you offer that training, I imagine that in the case of Islam, it is given by Muslims.

Is the training actually being provided by Muslims? We understood here that you do not verify employees’ religion — that’s normal — but how can you be sure that the training is given if you don’t know this information about the employees’ religion?


Ms. Khare: Some of the courses that are offered at the Canada School of Public Service, they are online courses. I don’t necessarily know the religion of the person giving the course. When it comes to courses offered within the CRA, Public Safety or Privy Council Office, it’s the same issue: One doesn’t necessarily know the religion of the individual delivering the course. It’s really about our unconscious biases and how to identify and mitigate them when it comes to our work.


Senator Gerba: Is it possible to have courses that are given to staff who are involved, in particular, in verification and auditing, and that would make it possible to see to what extent the names of the Muslim organizations that are being targeted — in fact, that would prevent Muslim organizations from essentially being singled out for audit?


Ms. Khare: When it comes to audits, our practices are really based on risk. The name of the organization is not relevant.

Senator Omidvar: I wonder if you have a working definition of “systemic racism” in your department. I’ll give you my working definition, and I wonder whether you have that lens on your processes and your policies. I think of systemic racism as the unintended consequences of set policies, practices and legislation that then have outside negative impacts on a demographic.

That’s what we’re looking at. We have heard not just allegations of Islamophobia against your department by various witnesses but systemic racism.

Do you want to comment on whether that is a lens you have applied or attempted to apply in your work?

Ms. Khare: As public servants, we’re all trying to understand better how the systems we work within could lead to systemic racism.

With respect to the workload of the Review and Analysis Division, which I think this committee is the most interested in, we are working as 1 of 13 national security partners in the Government of Canada. It’s a responsibility we haven’t assigned to ourselves; this is what we have been assigned to do. When we are looking at risk, it all goes back to the national inherent risk assessment, which is the responsibility of the Department of Finance.

If you look at the list of threat actors, whether we like it or not, the threats may or seem to appear in particular racialized communities.

Senator Omidvar: My understanding is that RAD is an elite squad within the CRA. As you said, you are working with 13 partners, so it is possible that not being accountable to any single one but to many and that may create its own set of obfuscations and capacity.

Who are they accountable to?

Ms. Khare: The Review and Analysis Division’s workload is not only related to audits; they also look at all applications for registration to ensure there are no risks present at the outset. They also have some responsibilities vis-à-vis information sharing.

But when it comes to the audits, at the end of the day, the person who signs the note of intention to revoke or notice of sanction — that has been delegated to me. That’s a responsibility I take very seriously — before I sign any of those letters.

The Chair: Thank you. I want to take this opportunity to sincerely thank our witnesses for agreeing to participate in this important study. On behalf of the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights, we want to thank the CRA for the work you do. Your assistance with our study is greatly appreciated.

I shall introduce our second panel of witnesses, but, before I do, I want to acknowledge that Senator Hartling has joined us. Welcome, Senator Hartling.

Each witness has been asked to make an opening statement of five minutes. We shall hear from all witnesses and then turn to questions from the senators.

I wish to welcome those joining us by video conference today. From the Canada Border Services Agency we have Scott Millar, Vice President, Strategic Policy Branch; Gloria Haché, Acting Vice President, Human Resources Branch; and Carl Desmarais, Director General, Enforcement. From the Canadian Security Intelligence Service we have Nicole Giles, Deputy Director, Policy and Strategic Partnerships; and Newton Shortliffe, Assistant Director, Collection.

I now invite Mr. Millar to make his presentation followed by Ms. Giles.

Scott Millar, Vice President, Strategic Policy Branch, Canada Border Services Agency: It would be my pleasure. Good evening, everyone. I’m joined today by my colleagues Gloria Haché and Carl Desmarais.


As the Senate undertakes this study, I want to begin by saying that the CBSA is committed to ensuring that all employees and clients are treated equally, regardless of race, gender, nationality, ethnic origin, religion, age, or mental and physical capacity. Any behaviour that does not reflect those values is neither condoned nor tolerated.


While we’ve made significant progress in raising awareness and putting anti-racism and equity at the forefront of the agency’s priorities and leadership discussions, we also recognize there is still much work to do. Today I will outline our efforts in recent years to promote and invest in diversity and inclusion in the agency as well as to engage with Muslim communities.

With respect to its workforce, the CBSA prides itself on having a diverse workforce that represents Canada. The agency is committed to hiring border service officers from diverse backgrounds and communities. In recent years, we have also invested in a number of resources and strategies to further increase the representation of equity groups in key areas in leadership roles. In doing so, our goal is to foster an inclusive work environment for all employees.

In support of the government’s commitment to address systemic racism, the CBSA created an anti-racism task force in 2020.


The first task was to develop an anti-racism strategy that is supported by three guiding principles: showing leadership, equipping employees and, thirdly, raising awareness and changing mindsets.


The agency’s anti-racism curriculum includes mandatory training for all employees on unconscious bias, anti-harassment, discrimination, authentic dialogue and inclusion.

The CBSA is also adjusting its training to counter Islamophobia more directly while integrating a deeper understanding of its roots and causes. We will include this in the agency’s anti-racism and allyship training — which is under way — as well as the course for preventing racial profiling on the front line. In addition, the CBSA will introduce workshops that incorporate an inclusive education strategy in a culturally responsive lens related to the daily lives and practices of Muslims. The objective is to incorporate anti-Islamophobia within our current learning spaces to foster a safe space for all employees, border service officers and, more importantly, the travellers and businesses we serve. Through these efforts, we are nurturing a culture founded on the values and ethics of Public Service of Canada and the CBSA Code of Conduct, a workplace that has a zero tolerance policy for racism against employees, the public and those in our care.


Any allegation of inappropriate or illegal behaviour by CBSA employees is taken very seriously. Each case is assessed on its own facts to determine the appropriate disciplinary action, up to and including termination. The CBSA takes complaints from the public very seriously, and a special process is in place to ensure that each complaint is thoroughly investigated and acted upon.


With respect to its policies and practices, the CBSA engages with diverse communities through a number of fora. On June 30, 2022, the CBSA met with the National Council of Canadian Muslims as part of a broader community engagement session to hear directly from communities about their interactions with the agency. At this meeting, the council raised concerns about racial and religious profiling at ports of entry. They also offered specific recommendations to expand the scope of the Public Complaints and Review Commission. The CBSA is interested in hearing further from the national council about its topics of interest under our mandate. We’re also taking stock of the agency’s various engagement efforts and looking at what we can do to engage with racialized and marginalized communities.

Thank you. I’m happy to take questions after Ms. Giles’s remarks.

The Chair: Thank you. I will now turn to Nicole Giles to give her presentation.

Nicole Giles, Deputy Director, Policy and Strategic Partnerships, Canadian Security Intelligence Service: Good evening, Madam Chair and members of the committee. I’d like to recognize that I’m currently on the unceded ancestral territories of the Algonquin Anishinaabe nation.

I’m joined by Newton Shortliffe, Assistant Director, Collection on our operational side.


I’d like to thank the committee for inviting CSIS to be part of your study on Islamophobia. It is a crucial issue, and I am pleased to contribute.


I would like to say at the outset there is no place in Canada for Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, or hate, or discrimination of any kind. Any such conduct is categorically unacceptable and reprehensible.


CSIS seeks to address bias and discrimination on multiple fronts.


Fundamentally, CSIS values diversity, equity and inclusion. It is a priority and imperative for everything we do and it is key in our service to Canadians as we work to keep them and Canada safe.

The service is working hard to develop and integrate strategies and approaches that help to identify and address systemic barriers and institutional bias. This is outlined in our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Strategy. We are reporting on our progress in this strategy to ensure we are being held accountable. Gender- and diversity-based analysis helps to ensure our policies and operations are bias-free and evidence-based.

We are also taking concrete actions to ensure a healthy and respectful work environment that is free of bias and harassment for all our employees. We published our internal code of conduct online for the first time a couple of years ago. We take allegations of inappropriate behaviour, including discrimination, very seriously and we have put in place strong mechanisms to address anything that may arise in that area.

It is important as well that CSIS’s workforce represents Canadian society. Our people are, quite frankly, our most valuable resource. We have made progress, with women now representing 49% of the service’s workforce and racialized groups and visible minorities representing almost 20%. However, we still have a lot more work to do. Addressing bias meaningfully also requires proactive external outreach and engagement.


In responding to the threats facing Canada’s diverse communities, including Islamophobia, CSIS has prioritized engagement with community leaders, their members and advocacy groups. We seek to better understand concerns, reinforce that there is no place in Canada for racial prejudice, discrimination and hate, and to build resilience. We seek input on how CSIS can be more transparent and build trust. This is core to how we serve Canadians.


Newton Shortliffe, Assistant Director, Collection, Canadian Security Intelligence Service: Good afternoon. As you may know, CSIS’s mandate is to investigate and advise the Government of Canada of threats to the security of Canada and may also take measures to reduce threats. These threats are defined in section 2 of the CSIS Act and include espionage and sabotage, foreign-influenced activities, terrorism and violent extremism and subversion.

We are wrestling with a dynamic and multifaceted threat environment. Ideologically motivated violent extremism, or IMVE, is a particularly concerning, complex and evolving threat that relates to Islamophobia, in particular.


Tragic examples from the past decade come to mind: the 2017 attack at the Grand Mosque in Quebec City, or last year in London, Ontario, where we saw these threats manifest in a tragic attack where four members of the same family were run down and killed because of their faith. These acts of violence are despicable and have no place in our society.

Ideologically motivated violent extremism, or IMVE, can stem from a range of ideologies and is driven by hatred and fear. These ideologies can be xenophobic and linked to neo-Naziism, anti-authority, gender-driven, and based on other grievances without clear affiliation or external guidance.


In these last few years, the combination of major disruptive global events — like the pandemic — the ever-increasing influence of social media and its global reach, and the spread of conspiracy theories has created an uncertain environment ripe for exploitation by violent extremists. The resources that CSIS is dedicating to IMVE has increased and now amounts to 50% of our counterterrorism effort.

I would like to close by assuring this committee that CSIS is steadfast in its commitment to keep all Canadians safe.

We are happy to take your questions. Thank you.

The Chair: Thank you very much for your presentation. I shall now turn to the senators for their questions, and I will start with Senator Omidvar.

Senator Omidvar: Thank you so much for being with us today and thank you for the work that you do.

My question is for the CBSA, Mr. Millar. I’m going to quote from an article by The Canadian Press in August of 2022. You likely know what I’m going to refer to.

One quarter of front line employees surveyed at Canada’s border agency . . .

— these are your employees, sir —

. . . said they had directly witnessed a colleague . . .

— again, a member of your staff —

. . . discriminate against a traveller in the previous two years.

And that:

. . . 71 per cent suggested the discrimination was based, in full or in part, on the travellers’ race . . . national or ethnic origin.

What is your response to this press report that is based not on what an outside advocacy group thinks but your own staff, sir?

Mr. Millar: Thank you for the question. All CBSA officers are expected to conduct themselves with professionalism and to be courteous — in line, as I said before, with the CBSA Code of Conduct and with public service values and ethics, which, of course, strongly abhor racism within the public service and in the delivery of services.

Within the CBSA, when it comes to concerns around harassment and racism, there are internal processes to make those complaints. There are online forms to do so. Certainly, there’s recourse for all travellers to make complaints through the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

We have a multi-pronged strategy, the anti-racism strategy, which looks at how we recruit, retain and train our employees. For example, we have 13 courses that cover over 30 hours of training.

In terms of representation, we have massive efforts under way to ensure that our Border Services officers are representative of the labour market and workforce availability of visible minorities.

We recognize that CBSA, as with other organizations, is in a fight against systemic racism, as it may exist within organizations, policies and practices. We are doing everything we can to ensure that Canadians are assured that CBSA will always conduct itself appropriately, in accordance with the law and absolutely in accordance with Canadian values.

Any reporting that we see — internal or via the media — is something we take very seriously. Indeed, we calibrate all of our efforts in ensuring that CBSA is not viewed as a racist organization but one that helps close to 100 million travellers come into Canada every year, including those seeking asylum.

Senator Omidvar: Just a follow-up on that, Mr. Millar. If I were sitting in your spot, I would say you have a problem. I would like to ask you whether the public complaints and review commission that is proposed under Bill C-20 — which will provide, for the first time, independent civilian oversight of the force — whether that will help in disclosing not just the problems but the solutions.

We have heard in this committee many times from Muslims about the problems they still face under the no-fly list. They don’t understand why they are pulled aside or prevented from boarding a plane. I’m wondering if the PCRC is, in fact, the appropriate fix. If yes, that would be terrific. Can you comment on that?

Mr. Millar: Thank you very much. Again, CBSA, as with any government organization, has to take systemic racism by the tail and absolutely employ policies and procedures to address it. I totally take on board your first comment.

The PCRC absolutely welcomes the review and complaints —

The Chair: Mr. Millar, I’m sorry to interrupt you again, but the interpreters are having a problem trying to interpret because of the connection. Can we just pause until we sort that problem out?

Mr. Millar: Indeed.

The Chair: We will suspend while we attempt to fix this problem.

(The committee suspended.)

(The committee resumed.)

The Chair: We will now resume our meeting.

Mr. Millar, you were answering a question, so we will go back to you.

Mr. Millar: Yes, absolutely. I’ll be brief.

We do welcome the introduction of Bill C-20 and the creation of an external review and complaints mechanism outside of what exists now in the national security space, given that we do administer 90 acts and regulations. That’s certainly a gap when it comes to review. Having a complaints mechanism where anyone could make a complaint directly to the review body or even on behalf of another person with that traveller’s endorsement — and then findings could be made to the President of the CBSA and reports to the Minister of Public Safety.

The outreach and engagement that the review body could do with equity-deserving groups and communities to make them aware of it, pending parliamentary approval and the coming into force of the legislation — that is something we would be happy to promote.

There is one last quick thing. When it comes to ongoing engagement — again, I reference engagement we’ve had before with the National Council of Canadian Muslims — we have ongoing engagement with many equity-deserving groups and NGOs around our policies and procedures. The no-fly list is actually one that has, in particular, been brought to our attention before. That is the responsibility of the Department of Public Safety. We certainly pass along comments or concerns to departments that are responsible for the various pieces of legislation that we administer on their behalf.

Senator Omidvar: Let’s move on in the interests of time.

The Chair: Thank you. As chair, I will take the liberty of asking a question.

Mr. Millar, this is more about personal experience. Just clarify for me, is it your policy to search Muslims more frequently? Is that what you’re teaching your agents to do?

Mr. Millar: Absolutely not. In fact, we do not systematically collect any information on the religious background of anybody coming into Canada. When we look at the objective indicators — and I can walk through them, if you want, but I don’t want to take up your time, if you don’t want me to do that — a number of things are looked at that would lead to a secondary examination beyond the initial interview we have with the border service officer. The religion of the person is not one of those elements that is systematically collected.

Certainly from a training perspective — I touched on that and won’t go through it again — the mandatory training that all the Border Services officers would have received would have absolutely been structured in such a way that it has the anti-racism components, unconscious bias components and the rest of it, and it lays out quite clearly, again, the code of conduct. Indeed, if they had engaged in any racist behaviour in the delivery of their duties, again, that would be subject to a Labour Relations review and as seriously as the termination of employment.

The Chair: That would mean the person who felt that they were discriminated against would have to make a complaint, and you said it could go to the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

We heard last week that there are issues there on that front because you have to go through the screening process that’s in place. The reason I ask that question is because my young daughter and me were flying out. It was summer — she’s a Canadian kid, and you know how they dress — and she was taken away for a secondary screening. We were flying out of Toronto. She was being searched. I said, “What are you looking for? You can see.” The agent turned to me and said, “I’m sorry, we’ve been asked to search Canadian Muslims more frequently.” I’m putting that question to you. You answered it, but that’s what I heard, and I wanted clarification on that.

Senator Manning: Thank you to our witnesses.

In its 2021 recommendations for the National Summit on Islamophobia, the National Council of Canadian Muslims criticized national security agencies for failing to adequately deal with White supremacist groups and expressed concern about the extent to which CSIS and other agencies in the public safety portfolio may be permeated by White supremacist groups.

Is it true that White supremacist groups are permeating our national security agencies? If they are, can you explain what the concern is and how you’re dealing with that? What safeguards are in place to prevent people with extremist views from working in national security agencies such as yourselves?

Ms. Giles: Thank you, senator, for the question.

We can say quite forcefully that IMVE and any threats as they relate to extremist ideologies and perspectives are of major concern for CSIS. From our perspective, of course, it is when the IMVE threats directly implicate our mandate — so when section 2 of the CSIS Act is met — that there is a very clear process that is undertaken for investigation. I will happily defer those questions to my colleague, Mr. Shortliffe, for that.

What I also want to stress here is that we are very focused as well on ensuring that we do have strategic engagement with a series of communities to ensure that we understand the broader concerns as well among Canadians of the impact of IMVE on them, recognizing that there are certain racialized groups that may feel more vulnerable and more targeted as a result of what can be extremely hateful and heated rhetoric, unfortunately, coming from IMVE proponents.

Mr. Shortliffe, would you like to comment on the threat in more detail?

Mr. Shortliffe: As I mentioned in my opening remarks, we now devote about 50% of our operational counterterrorism resources to the IMVE threat. White supremacists are a very large part of that. They’re not the only part; it’s a bit of a soup. That is an issue we have found to be of greater and greater concern to us.

I believe, senator, part of your question was whether or not CSIS and other government entities might be penetrated by White supremacists. We do have a robust security screening process for all our employees, to ensure their loyalty to Canada and their loyalty to our organizations. Of course, someone with those kinds of ideologies would be flagged in that process, and we would seek to weed them out.

Senator Manning: I’m just wondering about training. I know there’s ongoing training, but training to deal with Muslim communities, training to deal with people in different parts of the country, coming into different parts of the country or, as Senator Ataullahjan touched on, leaving the country.

What type of training is in place? It is ongoing? Is it of a voluntary nature, or is there mandatory training for your employees?

Ms. Giles: Thank you, senator.

I can speak to the broad training, and then Mr. Shortliffe might want to speak about any specific operational training.

We have, as part of our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Strategy Action Plan, put in place a number of — a widened range as well as new mandatory training that does include unconscious bias and cultural competency; foundational learning in promoting knowledge and behaviours associated with respect, diversity and inclusion; workplace violence prevention; harassment and violence prevention; values and ethics; creating a respectful workplace; employee code of conduct; and very importantly, bias awareness. For the bias awareness, for example, we do have 100% compliance, and staffing delegations are not granted to employees unless they have passed the course.

We have a number of very robust measures in place, and we continue to constantly evaluate them and monitor and adjust them as required.

Mr. Shortliffe, is there any operational training you would like to flag?

Mr. Shortliffe: We have a very diverse workforce. Our operational success depends on the service being able to recruit and retain employees from across Canada, from all walks of life and all ethnicities. We need people with different linguistic requirements and different cultural requirements.

At the operational level, when our investigators are seeking to work with different communities in their investigations, they will receive training obviously in terms of the specific tradecraft that we need to do, but also cultural sensitivity and how to approach different communities. This makes them more effective and is also very important to be respectful, which is one of our key values.

Senator Manning: I know right across the country there seems to be a worker shortage. Employers of every make and model are having a problem filling their roster. In regards to recruiting and retaining employees that you just spoke about in regard to your operations level, how are you doing with that? Is there a shortage? Are you having concerns in some areas in filling your roster, especially dealing with the diverse population that we have in this country?

Mr. Shortliffe: I will answer that quickly. Yes, we are having our challenges recruiting right across the board, as are many organizations. We have undertaken a number of initiatives to improve our hiring in general, but from diversity communities in particular, we have put out tabloids to hire intelligence officers and other intelligence professionals that emphasize our need to hire diverse candidates, and our hiring managers are actively looking for that. We wish to make CSIS a reflection of Canadian society, and we’re working to increase that as forcefully as we can.

Ms. Giles: I would add that as part of this, we have mandated bias-free selection training for all interview board members, as well as a very concrete measure to ensure that we are not inadvertently introducing bias. We’ve also undertaken other measures, such as trying to be flexible on certain staffing requirements when we are staffing employment equity groups, which would include racialized individuals, to try to make sure that there’s no unfair systemic disadvantage that is built into recruitment and retention.

The Chair: Thank you.


Senator Gerba: My question is for the Canada Border Services Agency.

My question is along the same lines as the chair’s.

Several witnesses who have appeared before our committee have stated that they are often subjected to testing, screening and secondary screening at the border, particularly at airports, either because of their name or their country of origin — because you know that our passports show the country where we were born. That’s a problem for most children or people born outside Canada. So, I would like to know how travellers are chosen to undergo secondary screening. Is it based on their name or simply their country of origin?

Mr. Millar: Thank you for that question.


There are five reasons why somebody would be referred to secondary. One would be legislated reasons, whether in the questioning of a traveller there’s a question around the payment of duties and taxes, animal food, plant-related considerations in relation to regulations.

There would be system-generated reasons; that could be a lookout or a particular target from international agencies, or something around previous non-compliance that we might have seen at the border, or perhaps if there’s a warrant out for an arrest.

The third is machine-selective, so where you put in incomplete information and we just need to ask for more information, or that information is not available.

There would be random referrals that are, at most locations, machine-generated. They are random, not according to names or countries of origin.

Then there would be officer selection based on responses to questions. One example would be somebody who travelled for one day and came back with a whole bunch of Gucci bags, or was gone for two months and came back with no luggage at all. Many different questions.

Objective indicators that, frankly, should something go to secondary and, indeed, to an infraction and possibly to recourse, or even to a judicial review, that would hold up. The idea of being objective indicators, again, race is not ever going to be one of those indicators. No one is trained along those lines. Again, religion would not be because we do not systematically collect religious information, nor would there be any reason why that would help us to administer our legislation, regulations or those of the departments and agencies.


Senator Gerba: I’ll give an example. My children travelled with one of their friends who was born in a country that I won’t name, a Muslim country. My children were born here, in Canada. They travelled twice with the same friend, and each time they returned from their trip, that friend was the only one sent for secondary screening. I find it hard to understand why, when you’re returning from the same country and answer the same questions, it’s always the same person who is sent for secondary screening. Something isn’t quite clear, even though I understand it’s not you doing the secondary screening.


Mr. Millar: A couple things. Of course, I can’t speak to the specific situation. Certainly, it would be the case that if there were concerns about why somebody might have been referred to secondary, or any questions around the conduct of an officer, to speak to either the manager on duty, to submit a complaint via our online recourse mechanism or, indeed, with the pending passage of Bill C-20 with a review complaints body, those would absolutely be complaints that we would welcome, because anything that suggests racism or religious targeting on behalf of our employees, on the part of our employees, we want to know about that so we can deal with the individuals or deal with the systemic solutions to that.

The one thing I would add is that we welcome and, indeed, process thousands of travellers coming from countries throughout the world seeking asylum, or coming to Canada under temporary resident visas or who are also dual citizens or permanent residents.

I would say that CBSA plays a great role in facilitating immigration. We have an enforcement role and a facilitation role for all immigration crossings at ports of entry. It’s a role that we’re proud of.

I am sorry to hear of the situation that you shared there. Unfortunately, I cannot speak to the specifics.

Senator Hartling: To the witnesses, thank you for being here.

I want to go back to CSIS for my question. You explained quite well that you have a strategy for hiring diverse people or people of diversity. What I want to know, sometimes we hire people and then there’s the challenge of retaining, perhaps promoting and helping people to feel welcome in the workplace, especially for Muslims. Maybe some of their culture is different.

How do you build that? How do you retain Muslims in your workforce, and even promote them? Do you have any strategies?

Ms. Giles: That’s an excellent question, senator. Retention is something that we remain very preoccupied with, especially given the incredible effort to get people into our service and screened rigorously, as my colleague explained.

One of the things that we’re very focused on, as part of our strategy for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, or DEI, is how we create a workplace that is free from bias, discrimination, harassment and bullying so that all employees can come to work every day in a safe, healthy and respectful environment, and to also be proud of the work that we are doing every day in service to Canadians to keep them safe. We have put in place a number of concrete measures to help facilitate that environment. I’ve already described some of the training.

There are other things. For example, we’ve committed to create new physical spaces for cultural practices to allow people to have that space to undertake that during their workday and as appropriate. Also, really emphasizing, wherever we can, that any form of discrimination, bias or racism on any grounds is completely unacceptable in our organization.

On the promotion, this is another important question and one that we are very focused on. As part of that, we are trying to create dedicated executive career opportunities for visible minorities, Indigenous persons and persons with disabilities. That has included measures to support them as they’re preparing for executive selection processes, which can be quite intimidating. We’re very conscious of that, the bias-free selection training that we’ve just spoken about as well.

We have seen an increase in promotional rates for racialized employees. We still do have quite a bit of work to do in that space and are dedicated to continuing efforts.

Senator Omidvar: My questions are for CSIS. We’re in the middle of our study. Already, I think my colleagues will agree that we have a growing sense of anxiety about what we see, even at this middle point, with the rise of Islamophobia.

Is CSIS connecting the dots between White supremacists and Islamophobia?

Mr. Shortliffe: Perhaps I’ll answer that question from the operational side. The short answer is yes.

There is no question that the Muslim community in Canada has been targeted and continues to potentially be targeted by the White supremacists as part of the IMVE milieu. There’s a great deal of hatred and racism in that ideological mix and the Muslim community, but other communities are directly targeted by them as well. So yes, we do connect those dots.

Ms. Giles: A core part of our stakeholder program is engaging with these communities so that we can hear from them in terms of where they’re feeling threatened and where they might want additional support for us or have questions for us on how they can build resilience or how they can ensure they’re protected. For us, building that foundational trust is imperative and it’s a two-way street.

Another big priority for us is making sure that we are committed to engaging with those who have perhaps been excluded from discussions on national security in the past and drawing on those diverse perspectives. That’s what we need to be able to address these threats —

Senator Omidvar: I’m still trying to figure out the link between White supremacy and the rise of Islamophobia. I appreciate the other work you’re doing regarding linking to the community and generating trust. I think that’s important.

Back to your colleague.

Mr. Shortliffe: In terms of the link, the White supremacists, as part of the ideology, believe in a whole bunch of different conspiracy theories, for example, that the White race is in jeopardy in Canada and the idea of the replacement theory. Much of this comes from the United States and from other locations — all the things you see on the internet. Unfortunately, the internet is the highway for promulgating these beliefs.

They target all kinds of communities, not just the Muslim community. They target non-White communities as being the “other” and being deserving of violent attack. However, the Muslim community is particularly targeted by these extremists. We do see that and we see the rise in terms of the rhetoric. The hate-filled messaging is increasing over time. This is of great concern to us.

Senator Omidvar: Following on the observation that you made — and thank you for sharing that with us — CSIS works within legislative parameters, as do all other government agencies, but it is a particularly sensitive matter that we’re dealing with here. Do you believe our legislation and our legal frameworks are sufficient at this time to deal with this connectivity between White supremacy and Islamophobia?

Mr. Shortliffe: It’s not really my place to comment on whether or not there is a legislative fix. I approach it from an operational point of view. CSIS investigates individuals who are engaged in activities that represent threats to the security of Canada. A great deal is going on in society that does not meet our threshold because the definition of “threat to the security of Canada” in this area includes the requirement for the possibility of serious violence in support of an ideological, religious or political objective. A great deal that goes on is pretty awful, but it doesn’t necessarily hit that threshold for us. Whether or not additional legislative tools are required is for others to speak to.

I don’t know, Ms. Giles, if there is anything else you want to add?

Ms. Giles: I think you’ve hit upon a really important question. It’s really a question for all intelligence agencies in modern democracies; that is, how do we ensure our authorities remain current so that we’re able to keep pace with what is a dramatically and rapidly changing threat environment and the way those threats manifest?

For example, the CSIS Act sets technological limitations on intelligence collection that were not foreseen by the drafters of the legislation in 1984. There are some limits that our investigations experience in a modern era because of some of those technical limitations. However, again, it’s not our place to make decisions on which legislation should be brought forward.

Senator Omidvar: This is an important point you raise, if I may. I understand you’re not able to comment on legislation. That’s not your job. Perhaps you could let the clerk know of a witness we could call that could educate us on the technical limitation of existing legislation in dealing with threats to Muslims in this country. Thank you.


Senator Gerba: My question is for Mr. Millar, to follow up on the issue of systemic racism. You said earlier that the Canada Border Services Agency has created an anti-racism team to address any such attack in your services. I’d like to know when that service was created and if you’ve noticed any improvements since the service was created.


Mr. Millar: Thank you so much. The team was created in 2020 and went right away to the effort of creating and guiding the agency through the anti-racism strategy that we have in place now. That has been a multi-pronged strategy that we’re pleased to see is rolling out across the organization. There are, in fact, employment equity and diversity inclusion plans that all branches of the agency are required to have in place and we do that now. Across the organization, there is a review of all our training and affirmation of the mandatory delivery of that training — again, I mentioned 13 courses, over 30 hours — and new training that we brought on board. We co-developed with Dr. Myrna Lashley, from McGill University, practices of anti-racism and allyship at the CBSA. We’re starting to roll that out across the organization.

Having a diverse workforce is obviously another effort that we have under way. We are pleased to see, with the workforce availability levels as determined and shared across departments by the Treasury Board Secretariat, that the WFA, or workforce availability, for our BSO, or border services officers, is at 15.6% in terms of visible minorities being reflected and we’re at 17.6%. We consider that workforce availability level benchmark for us to be a floor, not a ceiling. We’re looking to go beyond that. Certainly, improvements that we’ve seen on that front we view as positive.

Not related to the strategy itself but to the concurrent progression of Bill C-20, improving the review and complaints function for the CBSA will help us to be able to calibrate and look at what further changes we need to make. We’re not sitting on our hands. It’s an ongoing effort.

Lastly — and I touched on this before, but I want to emphasize it — there is the ongoing engagement with equity deserving communities and NGOs. My colleagues in the immigration enforcement area have ongoing engagements with many NGOs. We are, in fact, presenting our anti-racism strategy to the Canadian Council of Refugees this month or it’s just been completed. Maybe I’ll end there. I don’t want to take up too much time.


Senator Gerba: Are there more or fewer complaints? What are the penalties for violating those rules?

Mr. Millar: Thank you for that question.


The most extreme would be the termination of employment and where the employees are not following the CBSA code of conduct and the values of ethics of the public service that are a condition of employment. Where anything would move beyond that into criminal nature, there would be a separate process around that. Up until that point, there would be management action right away where complaints are founded.

The Chair: Thank you.

The final question is to CSIS. What’s your relationship with the Muslim community? There have been several claims of discrimination against Muslim employees. Huda Mukbil, a hijab-wearing woman who worked as a senior intelligence officer, claimed she experienced discrimination and was treated as an inside threat. I think back to the article in Maclean’s where some of the Muslim students were harassed and treated as terrorists. There is also the wanting or trying to put spies into mosques.

What is the state of your relationship with the Muslim community? You must have heard of the new stats that 1 in 20 Canadians is a Muslim now. What’s your relationship like with the community, and are you actively trying to promote to better that relationship?

Ms. Giles: That’s a very important question. Simply put, yes, we are investing heavily in trying to improve our relationship with the Muslim community. There are a number of Muslim partners, community organizations and academics with which we have regular contact and engage. We make sure those relationships are two-way streets; it’s not just outreaching to them, but it is us hearing what they have to say and learning from their experiences. Indeed, we invite them at times to come to meet our employees and present to them on their perspectives so that we can better understand the experiences of the community.

We’re obviously not in a position to comment on any specific cases that might be before the Federal Court, but we do acknowledge that there are social and administrative structures and systems in place in our organization that have previously resulted in or failed to prevent disadvantaging certain peoples and groups. That is systemic racism, and it is unacceptable. That is why we have put a number of measures into place to try to combat that on an ongoing basis, which I’m happy to describe and delve into in more detail.

The Chair: When you say you engage with certain groups and community leaders, how do you choose those groups and community leaders? Where do you look for them?

Ms. Giles: Quite often, they approach us. For example, at certain universities, there might be Islamic study centres. Those are natural points of connection for our external outreach. Quite often, as well, if groups have felt there to be or raised concerns, there are times when we might make a soft approach, from the strategic engagement side, to better understand what the concerns are.

But I would stress that this is very much on the policy and engagement side. Operational engagement is something that’s different and is undertaken in a way that’s consistent with the act.

I would add as well that all of our activities are subject to review by NSIRA. We take that accountability and transparency very seriously.

The Chair: Thank you very much. I want to thank all of you for appearing before us as witnesses. Your presentations and assistance with this study are greatly appreciated. Maybe we reserve the right to call you back. The study is ongoing. If we hear something else, we would appreciate it if we ask you to come back and you do. I want to thank you for taking the time. It wasn’t all dull and thanks to our committee clerk, we heard about how the beards interfere with the microphones. As long as you’re alive, you continue to learn, and I learned something new today thanks to the clerk of our committee, Sébastien Payet. Thanks very much, and enjoy the rest of your evening.

I shall now introduce our last panel. The witness has been asked to make an opening statement of five minutes. We shall hear from him and turn to questions from senators. We have the pleasure to welcome by video conference Ahmad Attia, Member of the Peel Police Services Board, Human Rights Watch Canada Board, and CEO of Incisive Strategy. I will now invite Mr. Attia to make his presentation.

Ahmad Attia, Member of the Peel Police Services Board, Human Rights Watch Canada Board, and CEO of Incisive Strategy, as an individual: I’ll begin by thanking you, Madam Chair and honourable senators, for spending months travelling the country and listening to the lived experiences of Canadian Muslims who have faced Islamophobia in various forms.

I am the founder and CEO of Incisive Strategy, a crisis management firm specializing in human rights. Over the years, individuals and organizations who have been subjected to Islamophobia have come to my office seeking advice on how to advocate for their civil rights or combat Islamophobia directed at them.

I am also the Vice-Chair of the Peel Police Services Board, having previously served as chair, where I led police reform in the areas of human rights, systemic racism, transparency and accountability. This has given me a unique experience in Canada of human rights reform in the law enforcement sector. I also serve on the Muslim Council of Peel and have volunteered in the Muslim community for the majority of my life.

Today, I am speaking in my individual capacity and not on behalf of any of those organizations.

I’d like to begin by reflecting on my experiences driving reform and combating systemic racism in the space of law enforcement, as that is a unique and very difficult area of work. It offers comparisons on how to address systemic Islamophobia in federal agencies.

In my role as a member of the Peel Police Services Board, I have been acutely aware of the importance of building trust with communities that have been impacted by policing. What I’ve learned is that acknowledging the system’s errors and shortcomings is an essential first step toward reconciling and building trust with the communities we serve.

Peel Regional Police is undergoing multifaceted and dramatic changes. In 2020, our board, Peel Regional Police and the Ontario Human Rights Commission signed an MOU that will result in a number of binding recommendations to ensure a commitment to broad systemic change. Such reform begins with acknowledgement, but that must be followed by engagement and consultation, policy review, data collection, monitoring and accountability, and organizational change. Without that approach, change is simply performative.

At the federal level, the Senate has been hearing about systemic Islamophobia against the Muslim community by the Canada Revenue Agency and the Canadian Border Services Agency, among other organizations in the national security regime. Today, both agencies have testified. I’d like to concentrate on those two organizations, because they have something in common: To date, neither has been willing to admit the existence of systemic Islamophobia, neither have effective checks and balances in place to prevent systemic Islamophobia and neither have formal oversight.

The past two decades have been witness to a systemic Islamophobia that amplifies negative stereotypes about Muslims, fuelled by a national security regime that casts a shadow of continuous suspicion over the Muslim community, forcing it to perpetually assume a defensive stance.

While the CBSA impacts individuals through racial profiling and other discriminatory means, a more crippling impact of systemic Islamophobia is the CRA’s Charities Directorate’s targeting of the community at its heart: its charitable works. As you know, several reports and media have documented disproportionate and prejudiced audits by the Review and Analysis Division in the CRA.

Despite the clear evidence of bias that has emerged, the CRA refuses to be transparent by providing RAD-specific faith-based data, it refuses monitoring and accountability by failing to cooperate with the Taxpayers’ Ombudsperson and having no oversight in general. It instead defends itself by pointing to diversity, equity and inclusion training, and the presence of Muslims in the agency’s ranks.

Today, senators, you’ve heard from the director general commenting on optional unconscious bias. However, CRA auditors have issued administrative fairness letters against several Muslim charities with findings that rely upon anti-Muslim material, as well as far-right-wing sources.

Decisions against Muslim-led charities are severe and cause irreparable harm to Canadian donors and to the beneficiaries of the charitable work.

Charities subjected to first-time audits that result in technical non-compliance findings — meaning there are no findings of terrorism financing — are being revoked or sanctioned by RAD, which are outcomes that are inconsistent with the experiences of non-Muslim charities audited by the regular Compliance Division of CRA’s Charities Directorate.

According to today’s testimony by the director general, RAD operates in accordance with the 2015 National Inherent Risk Assessment issued by the Ministry of Finance. Since it has been shown that the NRA has disproportionately impacted Muslims and racialized communities, the CRA is effectively indicating that this is likely the same result from RAD’s work, yet the CRA is blaming the all-of-government approach.

The Government of Canada has not shown any serious attempt to address this matter. The community called for shutting down RAD and placing a moratorium on its audits of Muslim-led charities, and delegating an investigation to NSIRA, the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency. Instead, the government delegated to the ombudsperson, knowing his limitations, as we know from his testimony.

Senators, similar to this, the CBSA has been fraught with systemic Islamophobia in its border security and refugee and immigration enforcement, racial profiling of Muslim Canadians and no-fly lists of Muslim children, to name a few. But, senators, it is not always systemic. The experiences of Canadian Muslims are also influenced by the conscious and unconscious bias of individual officers and auditors. A widely reported issue in the media today is the case of certain CBSA officers in Vancouver who are targeting Muslim Egyptian refugees, seeking to make them inadmissible to Canada. The CBSA officers are arguing that the Freedom and Justice Party in Egypt, which won the first and only free and democratic election in the country, has links to terrorism — a position that is inconsistent with our government. Furthermore, the CBSA officers have built their case on Islamophobic and biased sources that promote an anti-Muslim world view.

I mention this example because it highlights that both these agencies have built administrative systems that require a very low threshold of intelligence verification and burden of evidence to support allegations — unlike law enforcement, who have much more scrutiny. As such, these organizations are much more prone to abuse through systemic discrimination but also individual biases, the consequences of which have been devastating to the Muslim community.

The Canadian Muslim community has lost trust in these agencies after years of unjust and unchecked systemic discrimination. Trust will not be regained until the Government of Canada addresses the root causes of these problems, launches effective investigations, reforms the approach and priorities of the national security regime in our country, and implements oversight to ensure checks and balances.

Thank you. I am happy to answer your questions and delve deeper.

The Chair: Thank you for your presentation.

Senator Omidvar: Thank you, Mr. Attia, for being with us today. You clearly listened in to the last panel, and listened very closely.

I want to start by asking you a question about the CRA and, in particular, about the much-anticipated report of the tax ombudsman, that we now know will not be as comprehensive as it should be because of his lack of access to information.

My question is this: Of what use will this report be if it is incomplete in its information? What is the community expecting, then, from the report — which came out of the Islamophobia summit with high hopes, I would say, and now here we are dealing with a situation that is lukewarm at best.

What are your comments on this sorry state of affairs in which we find ourselves? Do you believe the minister knew about the limitations on the ombudsman?

Mr. Attia: Thank you, senator. Let me begin by saying that prior to the National Summit on Islamophobia, the Muslim community did not call for a review by the ombudsperson but specifically called for a moratorium on RAD audits of Muslim-led charities and a review by NSIRA. Community leaders and those who wrote the reports understood what was required. This issue is not limited to the Ministry of National Revenue or the CRA; as mentioned in testimonies, it is an all-of-government problem. The source of the problem is the NIRA, which is owned and published by the Ministry of Finance. Instead of taking the recommendations that were put forward, the government chose to use the ombudsperson.

I can tell you, senator, that the Muslim community informed the PMO and the Ministry of National Revenue of the limitations of the ombudsperson before the review began. It was clear that his power was non-binding and that this issue had national security aspects for which he did not have authority. It was very clear to everyone that the government continued to take this approach.

The moratorium on audits, senator, is an important part of this as well. It is important that while an investigation takes place, charities that are already under audit do not continue to be subjected to prejudice.

Human Concern International was suspended by RAD while all of this was happening. The largest Muslim charity, MAC — or Muslim Association of Canada — has had to go to the Ontario Superior Court of Justice for a Charter challenge, as well as other charities under audit by RAD, while all of this is happening.

Overall, the process and approach the government has taken has not instilled trust within the Muslim community that the outcome will be one that drives reform. This review began in February. It’s due in March of next year. We are now in November and hearing that the ombudsperson has one arm tied behind its back and that our expectations of this report should not be very high.

Senator Omidvar: Thank you.

I want to switch to the CBSA. The government is tabling Bill C-20, which for the first time will create independent oversight over both the RCMP and the CBSA. The CBSA is new, the RCMP already exists, but they will be merged.

Do you believe that this independent oversight mechanism will stem the obvious cases on a complaint-driven basis by Muslims on unfair treatment that they receive at the hands of the CBSA?

Mr. Attia: Today, the CBSA is the largest law enforcement agency in this country and it has absolutely zero oversight. The legislation gives unfettered authority to an individual CBSA officer to do what he or she chooses, without any ability for anyone to intervene, except for the minister himself. The system is flawed and it impacts people’s lives. Refugees who are coming to our country is the example I’ve provided.

Considering where we are today, the direction to provide oversight over the CBSA is important and critical and one that this government has been struggling to pass for several years now.

I’m not an expert on the bill. I’ve reviewed it and read it. There are issues with the bill that NGOs and organizations have brought forward to the minister’s office.

One example is that while there is an oversight body that can look into complaints, the oversight body cannot, in fact, reverse the implications of something that is done wrong to an individual impacted by the CBSA. There are many other examples that are of concern to the community. It is an important direction that we’re taking. Oversight is necessary because it has been missing for far too long.


Senator Gerba: Thank you to our witness. Given that you’ve done volunteer work yourself and spearheaded the reform of the police service, did you feel that there was any internal reluctance to change? Is the police service open to some changes?

What concrete recommendations would you make today to reduce systemic racism?


Mr. Attia: Thank you for the question, senator. Across the country, police services are struggling with the idea of systemic racism in policing and the impacts it has on the residents they are mandated to protect. At Peel police, the board that I serve on has taken an unprecedented step to fully acknowledge that systemic racism exists, that anti-Black racism exists, that other forms of systemic racism exists in policing and that steps are needed to move forward to rebuild the trust with communities. The initiative we’ve taken is not happening anywhere else. In fact, police services across the country are closely watching what comes out of this.

So to your question, we are trying something new. We have made a very clear acknowledgement of the problem, and we are now in the process of understanding the policies, the monitoring and the accountability that is required to ensure that we offer systemic change before we begin to ask the community to trust us again.

The same steps are needed at a federal level. Agencies like the CRA must acknowledge that an issue exists. As you continue to hear the CRA respond to the allegations of the community, they point to sources like the 2015 NRA, that it is not their issue, it is someone else’s. They are blaming other aspects of government and are not taking responsibility for the consequences or maybe even the unintended consequences of government policy that has resulted in targeting and prejudice and systemic racism against the Muslim community.

The CRA, as an example, needs to acknowledge the problem and then begin to engage and consult with the Muslim community on how to fix it prior to even thinking about how to implement the fixes that are required.

The Chair: Thank you.

Can you give me more perspective on the harm that the audit’s revocation and sanctions have caused the Muslim community?

Mr. Attia: Thank you for that question, senator.

As mentioned, the CRA’s role is purely administrative. CRA audits do not need to prove that criminal activity has taken place, that someone has actually done something wrong; it’s simply a matter of demonstrating that there is a risk of terrorist financing than actually proving it. Once an Administrative Fairness Letter, or AFL, is issued, the charity has the ability to respond, but it is the final decision of the CRA. When they do revoke or suspend that decision, it is made public.

What we have seen is that as soon as an AFL decision is made public against a Muslim charity, there is significant reputational damage that the charity endures, and this diminishes its ability to pursue any administrative or judicial recourse.

Once in the media, allegations of charity’s ties to terrorism have a chilling impact on the charity itself, its beneficiaries and its donors. Donors can no longer support funding the organization to take legal action to appeal those decisions because the charitable status has been lost. There is also a fear of repercussion by donors to give and fund that charity because of the allegations.

A specific example, senator: IRFAN Canada, when it was revoked, was supporting 5,000 orphans, schools, clinics and hospitals across the world. All of those beneficiaries lost support. ISNA Canada was once a national organization, and after being suspended for a year by RAD, it is now limited to a select few mosques and schools. The oldest Muslim relief charity in Canada, Human Concern International, has experienced irreparable harm from one year of suspension.

Let me give you an example, senator, of how to understand the experience of Muslim charities. Think of it as getting a death sentence for driving 120 kilometres per hour on the 401 while everyone else will simply get a speeding ticket. That is exactly the experience of Muslim charities. It has crippled the Muslim charitable sector. While a charity should be focused on doing good work to serve their communities, instead every decision that they make is viewed from the lens of the CRA.

Why should the Muslim Association of Canada spend thousands of dollars to spend on legal costs to protect the community through a Charter challenge instead of spending that on providing the important services the Muslim community needs?

Senator, the Muslim charitable sector is the heart of the community that connects the members of the community, provides meaningful social networks and nurtures its youth and children from extremism and radicalization and makes them constructive Canadians. Muslim charities are intrinsically linked to the founding of mosques, schools, social programs and other essential community services that bring meaningful support services and a sense of community to millions of Canadians. When this is under attack, the Muslim community’s trust in government diminishes, and it becomes very difficult to rebuild. Thank you.

The Chair: Thank you. Part of our religion is giving a certain amount of your income to charity, and that’s why you see that when the call goes out, charities — I was at a charity fundraiser yesterday, and people were just responding.

Our committee has heard about different types of structural biases that may be present in the CRA, including bias that casts Muslims as outsiders or foreigners and bias that views religious activities as primarily those grounded in Christian ideals and practices. Could you please explain how these biases and other stereotypes can feed into CRA practices? How can these biases and stereotypes be effectively addressed, both within the CRA and more generally in Canadian society?

Did you follow any of the testimony from earlier? There was this sense of frustration among us senators, because we kept hearing that the charities — that the CRA doesn’t know that they’re Muslim charities, they don’t look at names. We know that Islam, Islamic Relief and IDRF all have in some form or another, an Islamic name in there, or when they worked — and I raised that point that when they’re working in Muslim countries, you know it’s a Muslim charity. Yet there’s that denial. I don’t know. They say that they don’t do this. There’s a frustration that we have because this is not the first time we’ve asked CRA these questions.

Mr. Attia: Senator, there are multiple questions there, and I’ll try to unpack it.

Working from the last question, organizations across the country, including policing, are being directed to identify and collect race-based data for determining discrimination and identifying and removing systemic racism. When we call on the CRA, when the community is calling on the CRA, or yourselves as senators, to give faith-based disaggregated data, it is not so they can do their job better. It is to prove to the public and build trust in the public that their audits are not prejudicing or disproportionately targeting a certain community.

We understand that when a charity registers, it has to identify as per one of their standard categories. Advancement of religion specifically has subcategories of Christianity, Judaism, Islam or in that final bucket of “Other.” However, Muslim charities are registering under other categories to avoid scrutiny and prejudice by the CRA. Whether they choose relief or advancement of education or relieving poverty, they choose to remove the word “Muslim” or “Islam” from their name in order to get their charitable status.

Another example: There was an article in the Toronto Star by Dr. John Packer, who is an associate professor of law and director of human rights at the University of Ottawa. He states in an article he wrote, a charity he served on:

. . . a 40-year-old human rights charity was revoked for assumed “political activity” because it was providing training, in part funded by Global Affairs Canada, for the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation — the world’s second-largest intergovernmental body with which Canada has official relations. Absent any evidence, the mere existence of the term “Islamic” causes CRA to simply impose a crippling revocation.

That charity is not even a Muslim charity, but they did work with a Muslim organization abroad. That tells us that this disaggregated data is complex, but it’s not difficult. It’s a matter of looking at the activities of organizations, what their objectives are. Yet the CRA refuses to do that because potentially the outcome is not a great story.

Until the CRA provides more transparency, the Muslim community will continue to lose trust in the agency. You talked about bias. We’ve seen several administrative fairness letters that clearly rely on individuals — if you just Google their name, they are Islamophobes. They are anti-Muslim individuals. They are people associated with the freedom convoy. So for an agency the size of the CRA to rely on support that is founded in these types of places by these types of people tells you that there is a lack of training or that there is unconscious or conscious bias toward that type of lens and toward the Muslim community. I hope that covers most of what you asked.

Senator Hartling: Thank you very much for being here with us tonight. You’ve got a lot of passion. I love hearing all your passion. I can relate to some of what you’re saying. I worked in the charitable sector for many years before coming to the Senate. I know how hard that would be if we had our charitable status revoked.

If we put you in charge of CRA, because you sound like you have many good ideas, how would you make changes? What would you start doing with those changes? What are some recommendations for the structural biases against Muslims that you would take?

Mr. Attia: Thank you for that question, senator.

I think there was a very clear message that the director general today was trying to tell the Senate. We have an issue, but it’s not us. We simply follow the NIRA direction of the Government of Canada, which says what? Senator, it says that the highest risk of terrorism financing in Canada comes from 11 groups. Ten of them are Muslim-related entities across the world. Then, beyond the 11, it is foreign fighters who are associated with a number of countries they list that are Muslim countries.

The CRA is essentially saying it’s not us, it’s the government. The government is telling us to do this. We don’t have systemic racism. We’re just looking where the government has told us to look. If that truly is where the highest risk of terrorism financing is, where is the CRA going to look? Naturally, they’re going to look at Muslim charities. That’s the direct nexus, right?

The question that the ombudsperson keeps focusing on when he spoke, senator, is the risk assessment. Fine. The government has this NIRA, and it has these lists of highest risks. But tell us how you evaluated.

What is your risk assessment that told you to start an audit against Human Concern International, for instance? Why did you believe that they had a nexus? Why did you begin auditing ISNA Canada? What was there nexus to these risks? Why did you audit the Muslim Association of Canada? What was their nexus?

Show us your risk assessment. That is what the CRA is refusing to share, not because of legislation or section 241 of the Income Tax Act. Maybe because of national security, I’m not sure. But it’s their choice not to share that.

We need to look at not just the CRA for a change. We need to look at the Department of Finance. In fact, I think the Senate should bring the Department of Finance in to testify about the NIRA and what they’re doing about the 2015 NIRA, and what they’re doing to change it because it has unintended consequences.

I will tell you one more thing, senator. The counterterrorism financing regime around the world has realized that it has had unintended consequences. Canada is required to comply with the Financial Action Task Force, or FATF. It is a global entity that oversees guidelines and regulations around terrorism financing and anti-money laundering. The FATF itself has recognized that the guidelines it requires Canada to follow have had unintended consequences on NGOs, including Muslim charities, and is going through a thorough investigation on this.

Even the FATF, the global entity, has identified and acknowledged that a problem exists. So why is the CRA today and the Government of Canada also not acknowledging that they have also had unintended consequences over the years, have marginalized the Muslim community and impacted it? The solution, senator, is complex. It requires us to look at multiple places in government. But the CRA must take responsibility for the outcomes that it has been responsible for.

Senator Hartling: Thank you.

Senator Omidvar: I have two questions. One is about the CRA. I take your point that revocation results not just in significant damage to the mission of an organization but also reputational risk to its directors, outside of prevention of their work, et cetera.

Staying on revocation, I understand that charities that are revoked can take their case to court, but that is an expensive process; it is long and drawn out.

I wonder if you can respond to something that’s in between, which is that an independent review body should be struck before a revocation order is implemented, and review the order before it becomes final. This independent review body of revocations would be made up not of CRA officials but citizens that the government chooses to pull together, just for revocations because it is so serious.

Mr. Attia: Senator, this concept you talk about is not unknown to us. If you look at the refugee and asylum side of the CBSA, when the CBSA wants to take extreme action like to deny someone asylum or make them inadmissible to Canada, they must prove their case — even if it’s administrative or semi-judicial — in front of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, which is a body of non-CBSA members that are appointed. That concept could exist within the CRA as well, an independent body that assesses and looks at the findings of the CRA, the response of the charity and makes a final disposition on that revocation.

I’ll also just mention, building on this, senator, the question of complaints. When you look at NSIRA, established in 2019, when it completed its first report, it laid out the national security landscape in Canada that it was going to oversee. If you look at it, senator, you will see that the CRA and RAD were never on their radar, are not even listed as part of the national security landscape, although they are tightly connected into the national security regime.

Even in the implementation of NSIRA, for the ability of a charity or an individual to issue a complaint — in the way they would do against CSIS or the RCMP — CRA is not part of the NSIRA mandate.

In addition to getting NSIRA to look at the CRA on these allegations, from the public complaint process, the government must look at NSIRA to extend its mandate toward aspects of other agencies like the CRA that have a direct involvement in the national security regime that impacts Canadians.

Senator Omidvar: We certainly hope to call a representative of NSIRA to this committee if the chair agrees.

My next question is about your work in the Region of Peel. It is certainly impressive. I know of the work of the police review board in Toronto. I know that the board in this case can have a real impact on policies and behaviour of local police forces.

Is that phenomenon that is uniquely local in nature because the board is close to the people, as opposed to the federal government, which is far removed from the people and is less connected to them?

Is there something you can conclude from working with some success at the local level to the deafness that you are experiencing, if I may say so, to your calls for change at the federal level?

Mr. Attia: Thank you for that question.

The Peel Police Service Board is no different than the Senate or Parliament in the sense that it is not our job to intervene in the operations of agencies. It is our job to bring the truth out through policy, monitoring, governance and oversight; it is our job to identify if there is a truth in issues like systemic racism, or other matters of the agencies that we oversee. We do it through policy. We do it through hearings. We do it through listening to the community. We have the ability to ask questions in the way that the Senate is doing through this very important human rights review of Islamophobia.

Senator, I’ll tell you, just bringing it back to the federal government, the government acts when it has will. In the case of the CRA and Muslim charities, the government has not demonstrated that it has the will to fix this.

Specifically, to give you a contrast, senator, you will recall this, that — pre-2015, under the Harper government — the CRA was targeting environmental and human rights organizations for political activities. The Trudeau government in 2015 ran an election on a promise. When they were elected, they took direct action to stop these audits to ensure the CRA resolves them and that this program is shut down.

Yet in the case of Muslim charities, senator, the government has not been willing to stop the audits through a moratorium or to do anything more than a review by the ombudsperson. Where is the will of the government to address the concerns of the Muslim community in a meaningful way?

Senator, I’ll tell you, one of the problems is that when national security and Muslims are mentioned, ever since post-9/11, those are the two things you need to get the government not to act because no one wants to be weak on security.

We are seeing that the allegations in the Muslim community have legitimacy when it comes to the CRA. You’re seeing there’s a reluctance to share information, and the government needs to identify that the ombudsperson review is not working and find a better approach to work with the Muslim community toward resolving this matter.

Senator Omidvar: I’m hearing you say that the study of the tax ombudsman, the appointment of two Muslim members to the advisory group that advises the minister on charities and the appointment of a special representative for Islamophobia are performance?

Mr. Attia: Senator, on the representative of Islamophobia, we have to wait and see. We shouldn’t judge. We have to wait and see before we judge that.

On the CRA, senator, the ombudsperson review is not going to bring the results that will bring reform to end this issue. That’s certainly the case everyone agrees on.

The Chair: I want to thank you, Ahmad, for your testimony. It will help us when we get ready to write our report. If you feel there’s something else you would like to add to your testimony, you’re more than welcome to send us a written submission. Thank you.

Senators, thank you very much.

(The committee adjourned.)

Back to top