A church in Kelowna, B.C., is under fire for providing a congregant a platform to promoted her bid to become a local school trustee — an action that may violate Canada Revenue Agency's rule on charitable organizations.
On June 13, the New Life Church posted a message on Facebook — which has been removed — calling for support for Joyce Brinkerhoff in a Central Okanagan school district trustee byelection on June 26.
"Please consider supporting Joyce Brinkerhoff in the upcoming school board elections. This is a very important role in which the board considers many of the issues which our public schools have to implement," the post said.
The New Life Church has been a CRA-registered charity since January 2005. The agency says Canada's Income Tax Act prohibits charities from supporting or opposing any political parties or candidates, although the law allows these organizations to communicate their position on certain public policies.
Brinkerhoff, 65, was a School District 23 trustee from 2011 to 2014. She's running to replace Rolli Cacchioni who died early this year.
The church also posted a video of its senior pastor Matti Koopman speaking on the stage with Brinkerhoff in the June 13 Sunday service. The video has since been removed.
In the sermon, she didn't directly ask fellow church-goers to vote for her, but she appealed to their Christian faith when speaking about the election.
"If we stand for what we believe in — family values and parents' rights, and all those things that we believe God has called us to love our neighbours and to be respectful and respected — then you need to vote," she said.
WATCH | Kelowna school trustee candidate Joyce Brinkerhoff promotes election in church
Pastor Koopman stood beside Brinkerhoff and gestured emphatically toward her.
"You get an opportunity to decide who is going to influence our school system in the region in Kelowna, and you get to decide 'cause you get to vote," he says..
School trustee candidate Wayne Broughton and his financial agent Wilbur Turner said Koopman violated CRA's ban on supporting a candidate for public office.
"It's clear that the pastor [was] actually promoting her and giving her talk time in front of his audience and joking that it's illegal," Turner told CBC's Chris Walker.
"I am running on a platform of integrity and I think that's important, and I feel like the fact that they did it was pretty clear that they knew that they were violating rules and this was not a mistake," Broughton said.
"I'm not sure that's a good characteristic to have for somebody on the school board."
The day after the Sunday service, Koopman told Walker he admitted the church promoted the election, but he denied it endorsed a specific candidate. He said the church posted the video by error and knows it is not allowed to endorse any candidate.
CRA states that charities should not support a candidate seeking election to "a provincial or territorial legislative assembly, national assembly or parliament, band council, regional or municipal government, or similar entity."
Toronto-based charities lawyer Mark Blumberg said it's difficult to say whether this rule applies to school trustee candidates, but he recommended charities to stay away from partisan politics.
"We would all agree that it's probably not a good idea for a judge to wear a hat for one of the political parties when they're in court," he said. "It's not really a freedom of speech thing if you're a CEO of a charity, but if you really care about partisan politics, you can find another job."
CRA declined CBC's request to explain its rule on charities and political activities.
Meanwhile, Brinkerhoff said she and the New Life Church have done nothing wrong.
"The perception may have been that way for somebody who didn't know our values of service to the community," she told Walker. "I apologize for any misunderstanding that has been caused."
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