150 Profiles: Arthur Drache

As we mark the 150th anniversary of confederation, The Philanthropist is profiling Canadians from across the non-profit sector and putting a face to 150 individuals who work or volunteer in Canada’s social sector.

Name: Arthur B.C. Drache

Profession (current role in the sector): Lawyer specializing in charity and non-profit law

Years working and/or volunteering in the non-profit sector: 42 years

My involvement (other than soliciting for some charities) dates back to 1974 when I was working for the federal department of finance. I was the chair of a special small group charged with developing tax legislation relating to charities. In the event, I was the primary drafter of the tax legislation which was enacted in 1974 and has evolved into section 149.1 of the current Income Tax Act

Can you describe a defining moment in your career working/volunteering in the non-profit sector?

In the late 1980s, I was volunteering with what came to be known as the charity tax committee of the Canadian Conference of the Arts (CCA) which was, until its demise two years ago (starved of funds from the Harper government), the leading voice for the arts community.

After a high profile protest by Vancouver artist Tony Onley, who threatened to burn his inventory on Wreck Beach, the CCA agreed to work with Revenue Canada (as it then was called) to develop administrative approaches to the unique problems of artists: visual, performing and writing. This resulted in several interpretation bulletins which clarified the “rules” auditors should follow in assessing artists.

It subsequently became clear that what was needed in addition were changes to the Income Tax legislation and with the cooperation of the Department of Finance, these were enacted which were primarily of aid to visual artists and performing artists.

These provisions are still in place.

Describe your desk/workspace. 

These days, my primary work involves writing some newsletters, one of which, the Canadian Not-For-Profit News, comes out monthly. My desk is “clear” except for my computer which I use constantly to keep abreast of developments in the third sector and of course to write my copy.

I currently do very little actual legal work with the exception of doing some work for longstanding clients and advising other lawyers in our offices.

What are you reading (website, book, Twitter feed, etc.) that has expanded your understanding of the non-profit sector?

I constantly read material via the internet, most notably material from the US and Great Britain which gives me a feel for trends outside Canada. This is important because my view is that Canadian charity law is in a state of stasis with no substantive progress having been made in 20 or more years given the failure of the Voluntary Sector Initiative and the unwillingness of the Courts to even attempt a modernized interpretation of charity law.

As a past author with the journal, please select an article you wrote for us and share your reflections, reaction or thoughts about what has changed and/or stayed the same?   

The English Charity Commission Concept in the Canadian Context, 1997

This was an article which was amongst the first to highlight the inherent social problems of having the tax authority make decisions which have significant social consequences. I believed then as I do now that we need an independent regulator (akin to the Charity Commission) to make decisions which are not rooted in tax issues. The fact that we do not have such a body has created huge contemporary problems, most notably those related to “political activities.” Almost every other common law country in the world has adopted rules which allow a much greater level of such activities (as defined by the CRA). And Canada has been mired in the distant past.

In my view we cannot leave decision on such matters to the tax authorities but there has been no indication that the federal government has any interest in making the requisite changes…no matter how many consultations it initiates.

Without the creation of an independent body, it is unlikely that anything will change in the future.

 

Do you know someone we should profile as part of this series? Email us at philanthropistprofiles@gmail.com

Arthur Drache is a practicing lawyer with Drache Aptowitzer LLP. He has appeared as counsel in several cases involving charities before the Federal Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court of Canada. In January, 2004 he was named a Member of the Order of Canada in recognition of his work in the arts, tax and non-profit fields. In 2013 he was presented with the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal.