Accusations in parliament, destroyed documents, and a lack of oversight
By Janis McMath, Editor-in-Chief
Originally, the charity claimed that neither Trudeau nor any of his family members had been paid for those speeches—but later, they changed their statement and admitted that the Trudeau family had made money from speaking at those events.
The WE Charity scandal investigation has been up in the air since June, and it seems that it will continue on that trajectory in the new year. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s third ethics scandal began when the charity formerly known as Free the Children was awarded the contract to oversee the Canada Student Service Grant (CSSG). WE Charity would have received $43.5 million had they been able to go through with administering the program.
The controversy began when it was discovered that both Trudeau and then finance minister Bill Morneau had familial ties to the charity. Multiple members of the Trudeau family have been confirmed to be paid for speaking at multiple WE events collectively for $283,400; Morneau’s two daughters were both connected to the charity—one as a paid contractor and another as an unpaid speaker. Morneau and his family and Justin Trudeau’s family members also had taken trips that the charity had paid for—with “Margaret, Alexandre, and Sophie Grégoire Trudeau being reimbursed more than $200,000 in expenses” according to CBC.
Originally, the charity (run by Marc Kielburger and Craig Kielburger) claimed that neither Trudeau nor any of his family members had been paid for those speeches (but wife Grégoire Trudeau had her travel reimbursed) but later, WE Charity changed their statement and admitted that the Trudeau family had made money from speaking at those events. Bill Morneau claims that he did not realize that he had not paid for the trips; he paid the $41,000 the charity had put up for Morneau when media outlets began reporting on the scandal.
The two had not recused themselves from discussions about using WE Charity for the CSSG even though they had familial ties. In said cabinet discussions, Trudeau had stated that “when our public servants looked at the potential partners, only the WE organization had the capacity to deliver the ambitious program that young people need for the summer.” This statement has been met with criticism, however. In an interview with the CBC, Paula Speevak—president and CEO of Volunteer Canada—states that WE approached her organization for help and was willing to pay for Volunteer Canada’s services. She says that WE charity wanted Volunteer Canada’s contacts in establishing relationships between students and organizations that needed volunteers. Speevak voiced her concerns regarding the repetitive work WE charity would have been doing, considering that many volunteer organizations already have laboured to create large volunteer databases.
The contract was never remade, and many students missed out on the cashflow opportunity because of the scandal. In September, the Kielburgers had to pull all of their Canadian operations. On July 22, documents were requested but an extension was granted; on Aug 19 they were received—but many were full black pages with much redacted information. Conservative finance critic, Pierre Poilievre, criticized the Trudeau government for offering so many blacked out pages to the committee to review. Opposition argued that the redactions should be “considered a breach of the [finance] committee’s privileges” according to Global News, and Pierre Poilievre proposed a compromise: “Why don’t we take all of those documents the government has said are cabinet confidential and let’s just put them aside. Let’s just put them aside for now and give the other 54 per cent to the parliamentary law clerk.” Liberal Government House Leader Pablo Rodriguez has confirmed that they will be doing this, but with certain stipulations: “We have now agreed to send unredacted documents to the Law Clerk, except those that were redacted to protect cabinet confidences and unrelated material as already allowed by the committee motion.” Poilievre offered a criticism on these stipulations but has since accepted they will do that for now; “The only difference is that Mr. Rodriguez is claiming that he can decide what is ‘unrelated.’ That’s the key sticking point. But if these documents that he wants to cover up are really unrelated, why were they included in the original bundle and blacked out?”
A lack transparency and proper review is seen several times in this ethics scandal. According to Michael Barrett, Conservative MP and committee member, it was also found that legally ordered documents about the speech were destroyed. Speakers’ Spotlight requested an extension in releasing the documents, and the committee granted that extension. “On the eve those documents were to be released to the committee, and on the day illegally redacted documents were released to the finance committee, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau prorogued parliament,” Barrett states. Speakers’ Spotlight actually said that the documents were ready—but then on Nov 9 it was discovered that many of those documents were destroyed.
Another recently surfaced point of controversy is that the federal grant given to the WE Charity was never reviewed by the Treasury Board and was simply approved by Youth Minister Bardish Chagger—even though the board commonly oversees such federal spending. As Global News reported on, Treasury Board officials highlighted in a document released on May 4 that they found that WE charity did not “have the capacity to undertake this work.”
At the beginning of this month, during a debate in the Senate about a motion to investigate WE Charity’s federal funding, Quebec Senator Leo Housakos accused Trudeau of being a “bribe taker.” This caused senators in the cabinet to shout “Shame!”. These other senators were offended at the criminal implications of Housakos’ accusation—and Quebec Senator Pierre Dalphond demanded an apology—but Housakos was firm in his statement. Taking it further, Housakos stated that he would repeat his accusations outside of the Senate—where there is no parliamentary privilege to protect him from criminal or civil liability. The senator stated that he’d welcome a libel suit from Trudeau, stating that he’d “be more than happy to see him in a court of law and cross-examine [Trudeau].