Charities: making a complaint
Learn how to make a complaint with the Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee about the misuse of charitable property.
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Charities are special organizations that work to support and improve people’s lives. Charities can include trusts, unincorporated associations and non-profit corporations organized for the sole purpose of doing charitable work.
Charities often receive donations to help achieve their goals. The law requires directors and trustees of charities to use the donations for the reason they were given.
You may have concerns about the way a charity uses its property or how the charity is being administered. In some cases, you may be able to make a complaint to the Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee.
The Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee
In Ontario, the Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee (OPGT) can investigate specific complaints about charities in the following three areas:
- the misuse of charitable property
- concerns about how a charity is administered
- businesses controlled by a charity
The misuse of charitable property
Charitable property is any property, including anything donated to or earned by a charity, which belongs to a charity or will be used for charity. This includes:
- real estate
- trademarks or goodwill
Charities, not-for-profit and for-profit organizations can all have charitable property.
Sometimes a charity may be not be using its property for a charitable purpose or the right charitable purpose. For example:
- the charity may use its funds to support a political candidate, which is not charitable
- when funds raised for disaster relief end up going towards regular operating expenses, such as staff salaries, which isn’t why the donor gave the funds
If you suspect a charity is misusing its property, it is best to raise the issue with the charity directly and see if they can explain the situation. If you are still concerned, the OPGT may be able to help.
Complaints about how a charity is administered
The OPGT can investigate the following general matters:
- the charity’s property is not being properly managed and it is being wasted or at risk of loss
- the charity is using its property for activities which are not included in its charitable purposes
- the charity's property is being used for the personal benefit of the trustees or directors
In some cases, the Charities Accounting Act Regulation allows charities to make payments to directors. Charities can also get a court order to provide funds for the benefit of a director or trustee (for example, as part of a contract between the charity and a director’s company). A charity is otherwise not authorized to make payments to directors.
Complaints about a business controlled by a charity
A charity holds a substantial interest in a business when it holds more than 20% of the voting rights or more than 20% of the shareholders’ equity.
Complaints the OPGT can investigate
The OPGT can investigate the following issues:
- the business is not being used in the best interests of the charity
- the business is being used to benefit the personal interests of a director or trustee of the charity
- the business is not generating revenue for the charity
Complaints the OPGT cannot investigate
The following are examples of complaints the OPGT does not investigate:
You don't agree with the direction the charity is taking, including a decision to close the charity. This is a matter that must be dealt with internally.
The charity is failing to provide a service to someone. Complaints about how a charity interacts with an individual looking for help or a service is a private matter between the charity and individual. Complaints should be discussed with the board of the charity or a lawyer.
Landlord-tenant laws or rights are being violated. Complaints about landlord-tenant issues may be directed to Ontario Landlord and Tenant Board.
Matters involving consumer sales or contracts. These issues are private matters between the person making the complaint and the charity. Complaints may be directed to Consumer Protection Ontario. You may also file a claim with the Small Claims Court, depending on the issue.
Business contracts are not honoured or debts are not paid. These issues are private matters between the person making the complaint and the charity.
Government grants are not being used as intended. Grants and government funding issues should be addressed with the government entity that provided the grant.
The charity is breaking their gaming license rules or conducting unlicensed gaming, such as bingo, casinos or lotteries. The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario may be able to look into suspected license violations or unlicensed gaming issues.
The charity may be violating zoning or municipal bylaws. Complaints about the violation of zoning or other municipal by-laws can be directed to the appropriate municipality.
Corporate governance or members’ rights issues. Corporate governance and members rights include things like whether the directors are properly elected, holding annual general meetings, providing financial statements or correctly expelling directors or members.
If the charity is incorporated or operates under the Ontario Corporations Act, ServiceOntario may be able to provide further information about the rights that fall under that act. If the charity is incorporated under the Canada Not-for-Profit Corporations Act, Corporations Canada may be able to help.
If the charity is incorporated in Ontario, learn more about the rules for not-for-profit and charitable corporations.
Employment matters. Complaints about the violation of a collective agreement may be directed to the complainant's union or collective bargaining agent. Complaints about labour laws may be directed to the Ministry of Labour,Training and Skills Development. Complaints about human rights laws may be directed to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario or the Canadian Human Rights Commissions
Make a complaint
Follow the steps below to make a complaint about the use of charitable property.
- Write a letter outlining the complaint in full detail.
- Sign and date the letter and include your address and phone number. The OPGT does not investigate anonymous complaints.
If you would prefer the information be confidential, please indicate this in the complaint. It may not be possible to keep your information confidential since information can be released to the public in accordance with the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. If the OPGT takes the charity to court, the complaint will be included in the court materials and become public.
- Address your letter to the contact information below.
- Provide evidenceof your complaint. Examples of evidence could include:
- financial records
- board minutes
- letters or other correspondence from the charity’s board of directors
- annual reports and brochures
If the OPGT investigates your complaint
The OPGT does not represent the interests of directors, trustees, members of the charity or members of the public. If the OPGT decides to investigate a matter, they conduct the inquiry on their own behalf. You will not be kept up-to-date on the progress of the inquiry. Some investigations can last months or even years.
Learn more about the duties of the directors and trustees of charities.
The Charities Accounting Act provides ways in which individuals can bring concerns about the way a charity is run directly to the Court.
Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee
Charitable Property Program
595 Bay Street, Suite 800
Toronto, ON M5G 2M6