In a recent update regarding several recommendations made by the Office of the Taxpayers' Ombudsperson (the "Ombudsperson"), the Canada Revenue Agency ("CRA") responded to suggestions regarding unconscious bias training. As reported on in our March 2023 Charity and NFP Law Update, the Ombudsperson recommended last year in a report titled "Charity Begins with Fairness: More to Explore" that the CRA needed to implement unconscious bias training for all employees involved in the audit process within the Charities Directorate, citing low completion rates for such training among Review and Analysis Division ("RAD") employees. The recommendation aimed to address a perceived stigma associated with acknowledging biases, suggesting that destigmatizing unconscious bias could enhance efforts to address it effectively within the CRA.

This suggestion followed an inability of the Ombudsperson to comprehensively review the CRA's auditing process, which was under scrutiny after concerns of anti-Muslim bias within the CRA and their treatment of Islamic charities came to light.

The CRA agreed with the recommendation of the Ombudsperson, stating that CRA employees are actively engaging in courses and learning events centered around diversity, inclusion, and bias as part of the organization's broader efforts to promote equity and anti-racism. The Charities Directorate says that it has proactively participated in various related courses offered internally and externally. Specifically, auditors, including those auditing registered charities, are stated as undergoing mandatory training on compliance activities, emphasizing professional judgment, skepticism, and impartiality while safeguarding against unconscious bias. Additional unconscious bias training is available to all CRA employees through the Canada School of Public Service and internal CRA programs.

The CRA has outlined short-, medium-, and long-term actions to foster a culture of respect, empathy, diversity, and inclusion following the Ombudsperson's recommendations. Immediately, mandatory unconscious bias training will be included in performance agreements for all indeterminate CRA employees, while term employees can access it voluntarily. Specific to the Charities Directorate, short-term actions include making unconscious bias training mandatory for employees involved in charity audits and updating training materials. In the medium term, a new mandatory training suite will be introduced focusing on unconscious bias, cultural competency, and religious literacy. Long-term plans involve offering annual refresher training on key concepts covered in the mandatory training suite.'

The CRA affirmed its dedication to equipping its employees to serve all Canadians with empathy and respect. The Charities Directorate emphasized the completion of a new mandatory training suite covering unconscious bias, cultural competency, and religious literacy for all its employees. Additionally, the Directorate highlighted the importance of completing annual refresher courses, stating that it will ensure its employees maintain this practice.

The CRA's agreement with the Ombudsperson's recommendation and the additional steps that have been announced are a very positive development that will help to regain confidence in the role of the CRA as the regulator of charities under the Income Tax Act, in particular with regard to audits of charities involving ethnic communities, including the Muslim community.

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