TOO POLITICAL. Artur Pawlowski and Prime Minister Stephen Harper in March 2009. Pawlowski was in Ottawa for the Manning Conference, where he met Harper, Stockwell Day and other conservative politicians.
(streetchurch.ca, Office of the Prime Minister)
A religious organization in Calgary is being denied charitable status because of its views on abortion, homosexuality and divorce, says the group's head pastor Artur Pawlowski.
In January 2009, the CRA revoked the charitable status of Kings Glory Fellowship, a non-denominational protestant group, "for failing to file its annual registered charity information return," says a spokesperson for the CRA.
Pawlowski admits that the tax return for Kings Glory Fellowship was not submitted on time. He says he failed to meet the deadline because government officials had indicated they would give him an extension.
After the CRA revoked the charitable status of Kings Glory Fellowship, Pawlowski applied to re-register it as a charity. But the CRA responded with a letter, denying the application, because Kings Glory Fellowship spends more than 10 per cent of its time on political issues, says Pawlowski.
"We note from the applicant's website that the members of the board of directors espouse strong negative views about sensitive and controversial issues, which may also be viewed as political, such as abortion, homosexuality, divorce, etc," the CRA wrote in a letter to Pawlowski.
"They [the CRA] just assumed a lot," says Pawlowski. "They went onto my website, Street Church [Ministries], and they said, 'A-ha, that's the same guy, and he has the same views. We don't like those views, therefore, he's not allowed to keep his charitable status.'"
Street Church Ministries is another religious organization headed by Pawlowski. Unlike Kings Glory Fellowship, Street Church Ministries is not a registered charity.
Pawlowski says Kings Glory Fellowship's primary role is to help the homeless by providing them with housing, food, clothes and furniture. It also runs an orphanage in Kenya.
Kings Glory Fellowship and Street Church Ministries sometimes partner to provide these services, says Pawlowski. In the past, those who donated to Kings Glory Fellowship received a tax receipt, while those who donated to Street Church Ministries did not. Pawlowski also receives personal donations, which he claims as income.
Both Kings Glory Fellowship and Street Church Ministries share the same board members, the same head pastor (Pawlowski) and the same mailing address. But Pawlowski says they are separate organizations with separate bank accounts, and he says they should be treated separately by the CRA.
"One person can own 10 different businesses... so what is the difference?" he says.
The CRA could not comment on specifics of Pawlowski's application nor could it confirm that a letter had been sent to Pawlowski. However, a spokesperson for the CRA did say that the CRA will issue an "Administrative Fairness Letter" on an application for registration or re-registration if it wants to "express potential concerns on the application and seek clarification from the applicant in order to ensure a full and fair decision on its eligibility for registration."
The law stipulates that registered charities must devote substantially all — 90 per cent — of its resources to charitable activities. Resources include financial assets, as well as its staff, volunteers, directors, premises and equipment.
Last year, Pawlowski successfully fought in court against being fined for using a microphone at outdoor events to raise awareness about homelessness. The letter from the CRA referenced Pawlowski's fight against the City of Calgary and noted that a petition in support of Street Church Ministries "contains elements that may also be regarded as political."
The letter also quoted from a press release that Pawlowski had written, in which he was critical of City of Calgary officials for "flying the flag of the homosexual community on masts in front of City Hall."
Pawlowski does not consider such advocacy work to be political in nature. He says he's promoting social and moral issues from God's point of view.
"This is the problem," says Pawlowski. "It depends what you define as political activism. If you speak about homosexuality, is that politics? To me, it's not. Some people confuse it as politics. I don't. I just speak from God's point of view about those issues."
Pawlowski says he does not spend any money on advocacy work.
"When I speak to politicians about different issues, and always those issues are tied to our plea for justice, there [is] no money required," he says, "I just go there and I speak."
Pawlowski has appealed the CRA's decision and is waiting for a response. He said he will take the matter to court if necessary.