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The Canada Revenue Agency doubles down

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According to a document newly obtained through an Access to Information request, the august Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) is under audit scrutiny because, according to Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) officials, its research and educational materials are "one-sided."

I must admit I'm tickled by the notion of "one-sided" research. Does that mean investigating an issue without using contradictory hypotheses to do so?

In any case, we are informed that two prominent right-wing think tanks are not being audited for bias or indeed for anything else, and informed that two others are refusing to comment on the matter. That's OK: we already know that one of the latter, that heterodox, broad-spectrum outfit known as the Fraser Institute, is not. We still have no word on the Montreal Institute or the Manning Foundation, true intellectual agoras both.

Despite Andrew Coyne's recent spate of contrarianism, the evidence is rather clear that progressive charities, not conservative ones, are being singled out for punitive audits. Quite a few indignant words have been expended on this selective targeting: it would take only one announcement from a right-wing outfit to make us all look a little foolish. But no such announcement has been forthcoming, and I wouldn't hold my breath if I were you.

The resources dedicated to this witch-hunt have been extraordinary. One four-person organization alone, the Vancouver-based Co-Dev, has been under sustained assault by three CRA auditors, including two "political activity specialists."

Your tax dollars and mine at work here, folks. Nearly one auditor for every member of a charity board. Meanwhile Canada's 1% are squirreling away countless billions in offshore tax havens, while the government has cut the CRA's overall enforcement budget. This doesn't add up, unless you are willing to concede that targeting dissent is more important to this government and its squad of CRA bravos than recovering fabulous mounds of treasure that could pay CPP to 65-year olds, re-open veterans' service offices, start up a national childcare program, stop the cuts to essential public services, and still leave enough pelf to buy Harper a fleet of million-dollar security vehicles and a personal F-35.

The new revelation makes it glaringly apparent that a full-scale ideological inquisition is underway, of a piece with the muzzling of Canadian scientists, loyalty oaths for librarians, and suppressing art exhibits and book discussions.

Let's review some elementary facts that appear to have escaped the yokels running this CRA salient on behalf of the PMO. Think-tanks do have governing values, as Bruce Campbell of the CCPA points out. That doesn't mean that the research they do cannot be methodologically sound. Charities are based upon altruistic worldviews at some remove from the grubbing, acquisitive values of our current rulers. That doesn't mean they're ripping off the taxpayer.

But the audit blitzers have a job to do: paralyze and intimidate any conceivable dissent from the reigning orthodoxy. Any excuse will do. And their crudely obvious selectivity makes the whole thing plain—or should, unless, like too many of our punditocracy, you are wilfully blind or in pathological denial. It can't happen here, right?

Well, on some levels it already has. Research is an imperfect industry, shot through with assumptions and biases. (Take the Fraser Institute’s tendentious broadsides on immigration and labour, for example. Please.) Progress arises out of critique: pointing out errors, new or overlooked observations, poor reasoning. It is not achieved by unleashing little Lysenkos from the tax office to conduct ideological filtration exercises.

Research is, of course, almost invariably one-sided in one sense: research projects tend to arrive at conclusions. But those conclusions are always tentative, subject to being falsified by informed, critique, more research (or even, in the case of the Fraser Institute, by its own numbers). Not so for political and ideological orthodoxies, however, surely the ultimate in one-sidedness, which are backed up, not by processes of testing and observation, but by repressive state apparatuses. Police. The military. And in this case, by delegation, the CRA.

"The facts have a left-wing bias" is a fun phrase to deploy if you’re in the mood for mockery, but hardly a serious analytical statement. Yet the odd thing is that, judging from its on-going program of suppression, the Harper government and its CRA proxy seem to have taken it to heart.

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