Tax discrepancy may force charity to close

For 20 years the Creative Spirit Art Centre has given artists with disabilities a forum to present and sell their work. But founder Ellen Anderson says the centre may soon be forced to close its doors.

The Canada Revenue Agency has told the registered charity to pay $7,415.40 that Anderson said she feels she shouldn’t have to forfeit.

“I know it’s an entity, it’s not a person, but it is very punishing for someone who just wants to do good work and charitable work,” she said.

The controversy centres around a $60,000 community improvement grant the organization received in 2009 from the Ontario Trillium Foundation, which was used to hire an administrative assistant. When that assistant left less than six months later, a new one was hired who stayed on until 2010.

Anderson insists the assistants were contract workers who knew the position was not permanent and that there was no possibility of earning more as they were being paid from a fixed-price, one-time grant.

She said the Canada Revenue Agency’s position was that the assistants were salaried workers and therefore the centre is responsible for paying Canadian Pension Plan and Employment Insurance deductions for the former employees.

The centre lost its first appeal on the matter and came out even more confused.

“When we went through the appeal they actually wrote back to our treasurer saying ‘Yes, they are contract workers but you still owe money for the CPP and insurance,’ ” Anderson said.

The centre’s third appeal is currently waiting to be heard in tax court.

“We don’t even get to present an argument, they just look at the paperwork and they sort of rubberstamp it and say the whole thing all over again,” she said. “It feels a bit like a kangaroo court.”

Although the appeal process is ongoing, Anderson said the agency has demanded the centre pay the money and has threatened to freeze its bank account.

Canada Revenue Agency spokesman Philippe Brideau said he could not comment on the centre’s case as it is currently before the courts.

The centre recently spoke to MP Andrew Cash who said he’s looking into the matter.

“We’re following up with Canada Revenue Agency, so we’ve got a line of communication open with CRA now,” he said. “We are going to try and get to the bottom of what the issue is and there may be a way we can help them facilitate a solution to this.”

If not, Anderson said that will likely be the end of the Creative Spirit Art Centre, which she started in 1992.

“It’s a project that I have delivered for 20 years, without pay, without any expectation of any reward and with a lot of wonderful volunteer people,” she said. “I don’t know how much longer I can do this.

“If they make us pay this we don’t have the money, we’ll have to close down.”

Were the centre, located at 999 Dovercourt Rd., to close, Anderson said she would like to see a college or university assume the collection of outsider art. However, she said she was hoping a fundraiser of some sort could be organized if the centre were made to pay.

“If there’s some champion out there that would help us that would be fabulous,” she said.