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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Clubine

What Purposes Qualify as “Charitable” in Canada?

Updated: Jul 4

A group of volunteers working for a charity

Andrew Clubine

Nov 6, 2023

Canadians are passionate about many causes and Canadian non-profit organizations carry out important work in communities across the country. However, not all causes are considered “charitable” by the law.

To become a registered charity under the Income Tax Act (Canada), an organization’s purposes must be exclusively charitable. Purposes are the organization’s primary objectives as listed in the organization’s constituting documents. Those purposes can be considered charitable if they fall under at least one of the four recognized "heads of charity." We describe the four heads of charity below.

Relief of poverty

Charities in this category work to ease the hardships faced by individuals living in poverty. Poverty in this context doesn't just refer to those who are starving, displaced, or destitute, but also includes those who lack access to basic necessities or amenities available to others. Charitable purposes that relieve poverty can include operating a food bank for individuals not earning a living wage, providing affordable housing for families living under the poverty line, and providing basic necessities to victims of natural disasters.

Advancement of education

Charities in this category provide training that develops knowledge or skills. This definition extends beyond traditional classroom education, but it must involve a substantive training component. In addition to the development of specific knowledge or skills, this category can include purposes such as offering scholarships and conducting research.

Advancement of religion

Charities in this category must promote theistic worship (although there is some flexibility with the “theistic” requirement). Advancing religion includes teaching the beliefs of a particular faith, upholding its doctrines, and promoting its observances. This is commonly done through maintaining places of worship, organizing religious gatherings, encouraging religious devotion, and carrying out pastoral and missionary work.

Other purposes beneficial to the community in a way the law regards as charitable

The fourth head of charity covers a wide range of charitable purposes that may not fit within the other categories. Acceptable purposes beneficial to the community include advancing healthcare by operating medical clinics, protecting the environment through conservation programs, promoting the arts through galleries, and enhancing well-being through recreational activities. Many other purposes can qualify under this category, but the range is not as broad as it might seem. Acceptable purposes under this head are limited to those that have already been recognized as charitable by courts.

Registering a charity

If you're interested in registering as a charity, your organization's purposes must align with one or more of these four categories. If you're unsure whether your organization qualifies, it's advisable to consult with one of our lawyers for guidance.


The information provided in this article is for educational purposes only. Nothing contained herein should be considered as legal, professional, or tax advice. Please contact us directly if you require legal assistance.

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