The federal government has stripped one of Ottawa’s largest mosques of its charity status over “activities that promote hate and intolerance,” Global News has learned.
The Canada Revenue Agency took action against the Ottawa Islamic Centre and Assalam Mosque following audits that raised concerns about its roster of guest speakers.
“Many of the views expressed by the organization’s speakers are misogynistic, homophobic, racist and/or promote violence,” the CRA Charities Branch wrote in a letter sent to the mosque president.
While the CRA said the mosque had not been directly implicated in their radicalization, it said there was a “possibility” they may have been influenced by parishioners or speakers.
The federal agency said the guest speaker issue had been repeatedly raised with the mosque but auditors found “no indication that the organization has implemented any due diligence procedures with respect to the vetting of its guest speakers.”
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Mosque officials denied promoting intolerance and said the troubles dated back to more than five years ago when the organization was run by two hardline board members. The audit covered the years 2012 and 2013. Speakers are now pre-screened, they said.
“We were really shocked this happened to us,” Muhammad Haile, the mosque secretary and a member of its board of directors since 2014, told Global News. “We don’t tolerate any hate.”
The revocation took effect on July 14.
It means the mosque no longer benefits from the tax advantages enjoyed by government-registered charities. Foremost, it cannot issue receipts allowing donors to claim their contributions as income tax deductions.
“It was devastating for us. It was like an earthquake. But what can we do?” said Ali Abdulle, the mosque treasurer, who called the CRA action “politically-motivated.”
The mosque can still operate as a non-profit organization, but the decision could serve as a warning to other charities that they cannot give a platform to those who have espoused bigotry.
Documents detailing the results of the government audits were obtained by Global News. They indicate the CRA was unable to determine exactly what the various speakers said while at the mosque.
But the CRA auditors reviewed the views that had been publicly expressed by a number of the speakers and found them to be at odds with the “public benefit” required of charities under federal tax law.
The CRA documents (available below) singled out Abu Usamah At-thahabi, Bilal Philips, Hakkeem Quick and Saed Rageah — all of whom had spoken at the Ottawa mosque one or more times.
According to the CRA, At-thahabi has called women deficient, said Christians and Jews were enemies, spoke about throwing homosexuals off a mountain and said those who left the Islamic faith should be killed.
Philips has been denied entry to several countries and has been described as “anti-Semitic, intolerant and contrary to integration,” the CRA wrote.
In a video described in the CRA documents, Philips said Islam was opposed to terrorism but “does not shrink from using violence to gain some of its ends, to establish itself in certain areas/to gain control of Muslim lands.”
Quick had “advocated for the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem to be liberated from the ‘filth’ of the Jews” and was condemned by the New Zealand Broadcasting Authority in 2004 for what was termed “hate speech” towards homosexuals, the CRA said.
Rageah runs a Toronto Islamic centre. The CRA quoted an Australian newspaper report that said he had been denied entry to the country and “displayed anti-Western and homophobic attitudes.”
“The CRA also has concerns with regard to Mr. Rageah’s relationship with the Al-Magrib Institute, and his role as founder and leader of the Journey of Faith conference, which has afforded individuals known for their extremist opinions, an opportunity to address thousands of gatherers in Toronto,” according to the documents.
Assalam mosque officials said the auditors had not alleged that any of the guest speakers had made hateful comments while at the mosque, only that they had made them elsewhere and had been invited to speak at the mosque.
“They’re saying the speech that they made was kind of intolerant and we’re saying no, they haven’t done anything while they were in the centre,” said Haile, a resident of Mississauga, Ont.
The auditors also alleged the Assalam mosque had provided resources to those not qualified to receive them, gave an “undue benefit” to one of its directors and failed to maintain proper books or file a tax return.
The mosque first applied for charity status in 2003 but was rejected, the records show. Among the concerns raised by the CRA at the time was its “sponsored speakers.” But it reapplied and became a registered charity in 2009.
Charity records show that in 2016, the last year it filed a tax return, the mosque received $164,000 from “sources outside Canada” that were not specified. It also reported almost $77,000 in foreign revenues in 2011.
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In a 2016 letter to the CRA, a representative retained by the mosque wrote that the charity had been established to support “a practice of Islam that was inclusive and aligned with Canadian values.”
But it was subsequently taken over by others who invited individuals who had previously not been welcomed at the mosque “because of their extremist and biased views.”
With the permission of the two figures who seized control, “an individual with extremist views” ran a women’s program and was allowed to speak to congregants, the letter said.
A youth group was also formed and “encouraged to host the various speaking events and invite individuals known for their extremist views.”
The pair resigned from the charity’s board of directors after the Canadian Security Intelligence Service began interviewing community members about them, the letter said.
Since then, the board has been working to fix the charity’s operations “and steer it back to its original mission of being an independent mosque that is aligned with Canadian values and interests.”
But the CRA wrote that while the board had blamed the two former directors, it “found this to be not entirely consistent with the audit findings.”
It wrote that the mosque had been registered by the government based on a pledge to ensure its resources were not used to “propagate hate or speak on any topic that violates human rights.”
“Despite our previous concerns, the audit found that the organization has not demonstrated a sincere commitment to conducting any meaningful due diligence that would ensure that the public benefit would not be displaced by any of the organization’s activities.”
“The audit by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) has revealed that the Organization is not complying with the requirements of the Act as they pertain to registered charities,” the CRA letter says. Among other things, the CRA found that the mosque “failed to devote all of its resources to charitable purposes and activities, in that it allowed its resources to be used for activities that promote hate and intolerance.”
It is rare for government regulators to take action against a charity for promoting intolerance, but police have launched several investigations following complaints about hate speech.
“Hate and intolerance have no place in Ottawa South or any other community — I find this news deeply concerning,” said John Fraser, the interim Liberal leader and MPP for the riding that includes the Assalam mosque.
McGuinty now chairs Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians, which reviews the activities of Canada’s security and intelligence agencies.
“The photo in question was taken five years ago, in August of 2013, before Mr. McGuinty was a member of the government and before the creation of the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians,” said Rennie Marcoux, the committee’s executive director.
McGuinty attended Eid celebrations as the local MP, she said, adding that due to confidentiality provisions, the CRA did not publicly divulge which charities it was investigating.