Let Internet decision stand, CommunityNet asks minister
In a letter faxed today, Margaret Coates, president of the Vancouver CommunityNet (formerly Vancouver Regional FreeNet Association), told the minister, "Yesterday we welcomed the decison of the Federal Court of Appeal to grant charitable status to the CommunityNet Association." She continued, "We are looking for assurance from you that you will not be applying for leave to appeal this decision further. This will enable us to get on with the business of raising funds and fulfilling our goals."
At issue is whether the federal government will apply to the Supreme Court of Canada for leave to appeal the decision of the Federal Court of Appeal released on July 8. That decision held that providing free public access to the Internet is a charitable activity entitling the Vancouver Community Network to be registered as a charitable organization under the Income Tax Act. The group had appealed the minister's refusal to register the group as a charity.
Mr. Justice James K. Hugessen, with Mr. Justice Louis Pratte in agreement, compared the modern information highway to the highways and bridges of Elizabethan England, which were considered charitable in the 1601 "Statute of Elizabeth" that is the basis of the law of charities in Canada. He stated, "The appellant's [FreeNet's] purpose is to provide public access for the inhabitants of the Lower Mainland of British Columbia to the modern information highway. That is, in my view, as much a charitable purpose in the time of the second Elizabeth as was the provision of access by more conventional highways in the time of the first Queen of that name."
The Association was represented in the appeal by lawyers James Aldridge and Marcus Bartley, of Rosenbloom & Aldridge, Barristers & Solicitors, with financial and legal support from the West Coast Environmental Law Association (WCELA). WCELA provides free environmental legal information to the public via a large Internet site (http://www.vcn.bc.ca/wcel/) hosted by the Vancouver Community Network (FreeNet). (http://www.vcn.bc.ca/)
"The Court is bringing charities law into the Twenty-first Century," said Bill Andrews, a lawyer and executive director of WCELA. "Charitable status is essential for effective fundraising. The Court has given a very practical boost to community computer network groups all across Canada." "WCELA supported this case because we believe that free public access to the Internet is becoming an important aspect of public participation in environmental decision-making," Andrews added. "Whether your concerns are about the environment, health or anything else, this decision is a good one. It clearly acknowledges that a public role in electronic communications is essential to the maintenance of democracy."
Coates added, "Anyone who wants to know more about the CommunityNet and how to get connected to it can call us at 604-257-3811. Or, set your modem to dial 604-257-8778. If you are already using the Internet, you can find us at http://www.vcn.bc.ca/."
Penny Goldsmith (604-257-3811 or firstname.lastname@example.org)