Citizen Action Monitor

The perils of not-for-profit, confrontational political activism in Canada

Shit Harper Did group didn’t have the expertise and financial resources at hand when Revenue Canada came calling.

No 1758 Posted by fw, August 26, 2016

“A few months before the 2015 election CRA issued our non-profit society a false tax assessment. To put it simply: they said we owed them thousands of dollars that we in fact did not. In response we had to go through an appeals process that absorbed a lot of our energy and time prior to, during and even after the election. Like everything at SHD we figured it out as we went – some of us even had to learn a thing or two about tax law and election law. This process was extremely stressful and even forced one of our team members to quit for mental health reasons. In the end we won the CRA appeal — which was great — but after our victory the government started cracking down on the personal taxes of various members of our team. For some of us the hassle continues to this day.”Sean

ShitHarperDid.com was created during the 2011 election by a group of comedians, filmmakers and other artists. We only thought we would need to exist for a couple weeks, a couple weeks turned into four and half years. In that time the SHD network has grown to include thousands of people willing to crowdfund hard-hitting comedic content and those willing to take creative direct action. Not to mention people across the country who appreciate and share the work.

As a follower of SHD, shit harper did, today I received an email from Sean, which I have reposted below. The email has some important object lessons for Canadian activists. Thanks to Sean, Emma and the rest of the SHD crew for playing an important role in the generational shift in the pivotal 2015 election that unseated Harper. And thanks for sharing their cautionary Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) experience with us.

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Harper resigned today, email, from Sean of SHD – Shit Harper Did, August 26, 2016

Dear Frank,

This morning Stephen Harper resigned from politics. He leaves with a multimillion dollar pension and his eyes set on the corporate sector.

Back in 2011 we started ShitHarperDid.com with fellow comedians and artists because we saw that many of our peers were not interested in Canadian politics. Four years later voter turnout among people 18-24 increased from 39% to 57%. We can’t take too much credit for this but we know that our creative actions and viral hijinks over the years definitely played a role in this generational shift.

None of this would have been possible without your support, so today I’m writing you to say thanks and give you an update on our plans for the future. But first here’s an update on what we’ve been up to the last few months. Warning: it’s pretty boring!

A few months before the 2015 election CRA issued our non-profit society a false tax assessment. To put it simply: they said we owed them thousands of dollars that we in fact did not. In response we had to go through an appeals process that absorbed a lot of our energy and time prior to, during and even after the election. Like everything at SHD we figured it out as we went – some of us even had to learn a thing or two about tax law and election law. This process was extremely stressful and even forced one of our team members to quit for mental health reasons. In the end we won the CRA appeal — which was great — but after our victory the government started cracking down on the personal taxes of various members of our team. For some of us the hassle continues to this day.

Harper’s Conservatives made deep cuts to CRA (reducing the number of auditors and folding tax evasion units) this resulted in tax evasion prosecutions falling by nearly half. With all this in mind it was deeply frustrating to be subjected to this for over a year — knowing that CRA’s increasingly precious investigative energy would be much better spent on the 1% of Canadians and corporations who owe billions and billions in unpaid taxes.

On top of all that – in the aftermath of the election we had to participate in a drawn out mandatory auditing and reporting process. We were subject to the same rules and regulations as political entities 10 times our size. We had to hire teams of professional accountants to help us and even they admitted that these 3rd party election laws were ridiculous and clearly designed to discourage grassroots efforts. On a related note there is a relevant challenge to 3rd party election law that is heading to the Supreme court.

As we worked through these challenges we also tried to create new work for the Trudeau era. Based on a series of surveys you participated in we developed TV ads about the Trans-Pacific-Partnership. Thanks to those who supported our crowdfunding campaign we were able to purchase sixteen 30 second ad slots on CBC, airing our ads throughout the spring.

However, it’s clear that – at this point at least – there is much less enthusiasm for our brand of confrontational creativity in the era of Trudeau. As a result, we can no longer to afford to maintain our various organizational expenses. We always made sure to use your donations as efficiently as possible, for that reason SHD never had any staff being paid an annual salary. However, we do have some overhead costs, for instance it costs nearly $1,000 a month to maintain our online organizing and communication tools as well as the insurance policy for our board of directors.

For this reason we’ve decided to break up the band in order to focus on solo projects. This doesn’t mean there won’t be a reunion when the public’s honeymoon phase with Trudeau fades, but for now we must go into indefinite hibernation.

To be clear, we’re not actually taking a long sleep like a bunch of lazy bears (Are we allowed to say that? That bears are lazy?) – we’re still keeping busy with various innovative political comedy projects. For instance Emma recently organized a national comedy tour featuring performances by rape survivors (read about it in The Guardian). While, Dan and I have continued our interest in the themes we explored in our Whoa Canada documentary – check out this short doc we produced with the Yes Men and NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

When the time comes, we’ll reunite, and when that happens we will have the benefit of knowing the amazing network of people (you!) that can come together and respond with laughter in the face of adversity. Until then we’ll be busy with other work. From time to time we may send you updates about our other political comedy projects. If this is something that does not interest you please feel free to unsubscribe.

With Love and profound gratitude,

Sean, Emma and the rest of the SHD crew.

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