Legal set-up for a commune in Canada?
February 5, 2011 3:42 PM   Subscribe

Legal set-up for a commune in Canada?


Let's say you want to have a farm somewhere in Canada where a bunch of people are living and working communally. You want to maximise potential government grants and other incentives, and minimize / eliminate taxation burdens both for the property and for the individuals involved.

Let's also say that there is a potential religious / spiritual element, that this commune is going to be the headquarters of a church.

The seed money will come from a group of founders who will also be living there. Two or three extended families, and maybe a couple of friends.

What are the smart first steps to setting this up from a legal standpoint?

-set up a non-profit that will buy and hold the land?
-set up a church (I think in Canada this might be quite difficult) that would own the land?
-set up a corporation / company, with the pioneers as board members?

Sort of related, but a second step down the road, what are the legal issues involved with having all the commune members working for free, and therefore not paying income tax, being able to apply for social assistance, etc?

And finally, any other key considerations you would hold up as potential red flags / roadblocks in this plan?

Thanks in advance for any assistance.
posted by Meatbomb to Law & Government (13 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I can't speak to most of this question, but yes, you can't just Set Up A Church in Canada. There are a lot tougher definitions as to what makes a church or a bona fide religious group compared to the United States.

This whole thing seems like a giant red flag to me. It sounds like a big scam to defraud the government.
posted by the dief at 3:47 PM on February 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Here's a previous AskMe on the religion thing.
posted by the dief at 3:48 PM on February 5, 2011

You know, I remember reading something recently about Hutterites doing something almost exactly akin to this. They formed a company to which all of the townsfolk were equal shareholders.

Oh, it was a mefi link! Here it is.
posted by zug at 3:49 PM on February 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: It sounds like a big scam to defraud the government.

Look, there are communities such as the Hutterites, Mennonites, and Amish who live like this. They are doing it out of conviction and so am I. Is it fraud to try to live a communal life and not get a tax burden larger than legally necessary?

Anyways, please let's not get derailed on the morality of this and try to stick to practicalities...
posted by Meatbomb at 3:52 PM on February 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yeah, it wasn't the tax burden thing that sent up the red flags, it was the "work for free but get welfare" thing. That's why I thought it came across as a scam, and I think that that's a big difference from how the Hutterites/Mennonites/Amish operate.
posted by the dief at 3:55 PM on February 5, 2011

Maybe start by looking up the history of Black Bear Ranch. I think they've set up a community trust so that the land will be held in perpetuity for the use of the (ever-fluctuating) residents. Not Canadian, but maybe of interest.

Also: I am interested in joining your cult.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 3:55 PM on February 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

Look, there are communities such as the Hutterites, Mennonites, and Amish who live like this.

The Amish do not collect welfare, social security, or any other social safety net that they do not pay into. They take care of their own. Bypassing morality issues, they've brought some interesting legal issues to light. Investigating them might be useful.
posted by Houstonian at 4:06 PM on February 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Not to moderate the thread, but let's just take the "collect social assistance" off the table if that is straying into fraud / scam territory, OK? It wasn't intended as central to the question here.
posted by Meatbomb at 4:12 PM on February 5, 2011

OK, even so, the church thing is going to sink you. You simply cannot come up here to Canada, establish your own church, and have it recognized by the province/territory or the Feds. No way nohow.
posted by the dief at 4:15 PM on February 5, 2011

Having been involved in cooperative housing in the US, our best bet was to incorporate, and have the corporation hold the land. Becoming a tax-exempt non-profit takes time, but the corporation could then look into it in your location. Extra bonus, if one family came or went, they would be "board members" and thus vote on joint ventures.

Seconding looking in to the Hutterites - they've been farming in Canada as a community for a long time. I know from watching my dad pore over tax stuff for their Anglican church that tax documentation may be extensive, whether or not you're a non-profit.

PS - the lasting intentional communities almost all have a spiritual center, so hey, you have that going for you!
posted by ldthomps at 4:47 PM on February 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: come up here to Canada

I am Canadian.
posted by Meatbomb at 5:12 PM on February 5, 2011

I would suspect that a lot of the required info for this will be provincial, meaning that you might want to shop around province to province to find the most supportive framework and weigh the relative pros/cons. It would also seem to me that BC and Alberta (as opposed to say Ontario or Quebec) might be likely candidates.

Alberta, for example, has really liberal homeschooling legislation (yes I know you didn't ask this) in part because of its history of catering to religious freak groups (yeah ok, said lovingly, whatever). Hutterite history in AB is only one history of relevance, but there have also been significant legislative changes specifically designed to limit the freedoms and potential power of a communal organization against the corporate, individualist state.

BC also has a strong communal/alternative community context. I have a friend who is in the process of starting his own church/religion in BC. He's looked into it significantly (the specific details I don't know however), but knowing him, he researched his provincial frameworks well and I'm sure his move to BC wasn't a coincidence in this respect.

I would be happy to hear more specific details (via memail if you like) to see if I can direct you to other sources/contacts.
posted by kch at 6:37 PM on February 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

One of the weirder things with setting up a modern commune is how difficult it can be to figure out, from the outside, whether it's a commune or a cult. I offer this up as a friendly warning about the following links.

First of all, there's the Twelve Tribes communities (you may know them as the Yellow Deli people). Their most recent location is my hometown and they created a heckuva stir, but more pertinent to your question are their locations in Canada. Note that they're in BC and Manitoba. I've spent some time talking to them and they're really friendly people, so I would recommend contacting them for advice (here's one Canadian group's email from Intentional Communities). They are religious, intensely interested in farming and maintaining the land, share all property communally, and as far as I understand, all members work for free. So, they might have some helpful advice or they might spend all the time trying to convince you to join their group.

The other group that caught my eye was the Christian Fellowship International Community out of Ontario. It looks like they have really thought about the entire process and even have forms detailing how to form a community and what you need to plan for monetarily etc. Note that they are somewhat open to visitors but I'm not sure how willing they'd be to share the legal elements how they formed (plus they started in the '70s).

In doing a bit of research, I note that kch seems to mostly be correct, in that Ontario (with the above exception), Quebec and the eastern area of the country are less frequented by communes than BC, Albert and the like. The Hutterites, it should be noted, are concentrated in Alberta (Wiki notes that land is getting too expensive for them due to the oil boom, fyi) but also in Manitoba and even Saskatchewan. So, there's definitely multiple provinces to explore.

If you haven't already, I would definitely check out Fellowship for Intentional Communities. You might focus on their Process Clearinghouse, which gives a list of consultants (very definitely including Canadians) who are able to help groups make decisions and the like. One of the Canadian consultants might be able to help you decide how you want to form your community or direct you to a friendly lawyer.
posted by librarylis at 9:20 PM on February 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

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