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The Co-Optation of Charitable Resources by Threatened Welfare States

48 Pages Posted: 2 Nov 2014 Last revised: 13 Sep 2015

Kathryn Chan

University of Victoria - Faculty of Law

Date Written: October 29, 2014


This paper addresses the emerging issue of the governmental co-optation of charitable resources, considering to what extent modern pressures associated with the retrenchment of welfare states are undermining the charitable sector’s traditional independence from government. It pursues this goal by advancing a theoretical contrast between ‘independent’ and ‘co-opted’ charities, and by identifying and contrasting certain legal and institutional mechanisms that either encourage or limit the co-optation of charitable resources by governments in England and in Canada.

The paper proceeds in the following way. I begin by advancing an argument in support of the value of an “independent” charitable sector, and the perils of allowing a nation’s charitable resources to be co-opted by the state. I proceed from this argument to articulate two indicia of a “co-opted” charity, relating these indicia to an important body of Anglo-Commonwealth law on the functional public law-private law divide and thus to debates over whether charities should bear human rights obligations and the other special responsibilities of the state. In part four, I distinguish three broad categories of co-optation that are applicable to charities: definitional (or existential) co-optation, managerial co-optation, and contractual (or fiscal) co-optation. I then examine several modern phenomena that tend towards the co-optation of charitable resources by government: the exertion of government influence over the legal definition of charity, the creation of statutory charities that are controlled by government or directed towards its purposes, and the exertion of influence over the administration of charitable resources through the negotiation of funding agreements or the appointment of government authority trustees. I consider how, in their response to each of these phenomena, English and Canadian laws and institutions either assist or obstruct government efforts to make charities comply with particular public welfare goals. I conclude that English law does far more than Canadian law to prevent charities from coming to function as agents of government policy, and may thus be regarded as a source of ideas on how Canada might manifest a stronger political commitment to the charitable sector’s independence.

Keywords: charity law, England, Canada, charity independence

Suggested Citation

Chan, Kathryn, The Co-Optation of Charitable Resources by Threatened Welfare States (October 29, 2014). (2015) 40:2 Queen's Law J 561. Available at SSRN:

Kathryn Chan (Contact Author)

University of Victoria - Faculty of Law ( email )

PO Box 2300, STN CSC
McGill at Ring Rds (Fraser Bldg)
Victoria, British Columbia V8W 3B1

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