Montreal charity, government reach pact

TORONTO, Nov. 14 (JTA) — A Canadian group that raises money for emergency health relief in Israel has reached an agreement with the government that will allow the group to retain its charitable status. Nearly two months after a federal court decision left its fate in jeopardy, the Montreal-based Canadian Magen David Adom announced Tuesday that it had reached an understanding with the the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency allowing it to continue to provide ambulances and medical supplies in Israel. The agreement averts the possibility of a legal battle in Canada’s Supreme Court. “We are delighted that we will continue to be able to solicit the support of the Canadian community for our fund raising activities,” the group’s national director, Joseph Bitton, said in a statement. “Tax deductible receipts will be issued as usual.” Discussions between the federal agency and the charity had been under way for several weeks, even as a legal team representing the group was preparing to appeal the court ruling that had OK’d the government’s plan to revoke its charitable status. The group has operated since 1976. In the fiscal year that ended in September, it raised nearly $3 million from Canadian donors. If the group had lost the legal authority to issue tax receipts, donations might have suffered and it might have been forced to cease operations, observers say. Last year, the customs agency accused the charity of inadequate supervision of funds sent to Israel, and demanded an agreement to oversee how the money was being spent. In September, the federal court accepted this argument. According to Bitton, the charity has begun to exert more rigorous control of how its funds are spent in Israel. The customs agency also had objected to the possibility that funds raised in Canada would support ambulances and other emergency facilities in the “occupied territories” of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and eastern Jerusalem. However, the federal court found that the government agency was wrong in asserting that this violated Canadian foreign policy. As it awaited permission for an appeal, the group discouraged lobbying campaigns on its behalf. However, a letter-writing campaign to the prime minister and various federal lawmakers may have helped prod the customs agency into backroom discussions with the charity. An Internet petition, circulating without the group’s approval, may also have helped. It gathered 43,000 signatures.

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