OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says his government is "extremely concerned" about recent reports that Muslim charities are being unfairly targeted for federal audits and sanctions.
Trudeau told a news conference Tuesday the Liberal government is looking "very closely at our processes," adding it is unacceptable to single out any particular community.
"We do have important work to do to make sure that charitable organizations are following all the rules involved," Trudeau said.
"But recognizing that systemic racism exists in all of our institutions, in all of our governments and all of our organizations, means listening to communities who point out barriers or discrimination that they're facing and pledging to work with them to solve these challenges."
Almost 100 Muslim organizations and civil society groups wrote to Trudeau this week asking the Liberals to announce reforms to the Canada Revenue Agency's practices on Thursday at a national action summit on Islamophobia.
They also want the government to overturn the revenue agency's recent decision to suspend the ability of long-established charity Human Concern International to issue tax receipts following an audit.
The organizations point to a June report by the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group that said the revenue agency's Review and Analysis Division works with national security agencies to carry out its audits, with little accountability.
In response to the report, the revenue agency said it does not select registered charities for audit based on any particular faith or denomination, adding it is firmly dedicated to diversity, inclusion and anti-racism.
Charities, non-profit organizations and supportive civil society voices flagged their concerns in a letter last month to Trudeau and several members of his cabinet.
In a followup letter this week, a number of the same groups joined other signatories in saying Muslim-led charities have for years expressed concerns about the selection, frequency and reasoning behind audits of their organizations.
Human Concern International represents the most recent example of many Muslim charities unfairly revoked or suspended by the Review and Analysis Division, the letter says.
The groups want the government to refer the issue to the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency in order to examine the division's overall processes, and specifically its selection of Muslim charities for audit, to ensure organizations are not being targeted due to racial or religious prejudice.
"Targeting Muslim charities on the basis of terrorist financing suspicions simply because of the religion they uphold is Islamophobic and prejudiced," the letter says. "Dismantling such prejudice is the first step in fighting institutional Islamophobia in the CRA."
Asked Tuesday what ordinary people can do to fight discrimination, Trudeau said Canada is not a country that happened by accident.
"It took people coming together to overcome their differences to build this country we live in now," he said.
"It's on all of us to continue to be vigilant, to listen to each other, to get to know each other, and to work together to build a better future. Government needs to lead on that."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 20, 2021.
Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press