In full-page ads in the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star on Monday, the organization’s co-founders told readers they agreed to take on the $900-million student volunteer program “because we have 25 years of experience building youth service programs that are in 7,000 Canadian schools engaging students to support 3,000+ charities and causes.”
Craig and Marc Kielburger laid out four “answers” to “valid questions” they say have persisted since the contract for the Canada Student Service Grant program was first announced in June. The program is aimed at helping students having a hard time finding summer work amid the coronavirus pandemic, but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau‘s personal and family ties to the organization drew questions and criticism.
“The public service has openly stated that it was their recommendation for the WE Charity to receive the contract for this program,” the ad reads. “Over the years we have received grants from and worked with federal and provincial governments led by a diversity of political parties for our youth and school programs.”
The contract, according to the charity, would reimburse expenses it acquired to deliver the Canada Student Service Grant program, but it “did not provide the charity with a ‘profit.’”
“The funds were used for the program or returned to the government,” the ad continued. “All was subject to government audit.”
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WE has since backed out of the deal, which offered grants to students for volunteer work amid the COVID-19 crisis. The federal employment and social development department has taken over the program.
The charity claimed in its statement that it did not accept any reimbursement for the work it had done thus far to establish the program before pulling out, nor did it profit from the contract “in any way.”
Trudeau’s personal ties to the charity came under heightened scrutiny last week after the organization confirmed it made payments to both his brother and his mother.
Margaret Trudeau spoke at 28 WE events and was paid $250,000 over the last four years. The prime minister’s brother, Alexandre, spoke at eight WE events and was paid $32,000 between 2017 and 2018. Trudeau’s wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, also received a $1,400 payment for taking part in a youth event in 2012, the organization said in a statement.
In the ad, the co-founders said they “respect the public concern” surrounding payments to Margaret and Alexandre Trudeau but said “no charitable funds were intended to pay their honorarium, as costs were sponsored by ‘ME to WE Social Enterprise.’”
“Once we learned that the charity did pay for their speeches, the error was identified, and the charity was reimbursed,” they wrote in the ad. “Yet, the error should not have happened, and we apologize.”
The charity said Trudeau himself has never been paid.
Trudeau did not recuse himself from Cabinet decision on WE charity
Trudeau is already facing an investigation by the ethics commissioner for potentially violating conflict-of-interest rules. Trudeau has said federal public servants had recommended the organization and that it was considered the only one capable of delivering the program.
Finance Minister Bill Morneau is facing similar criticism. One of Morneau’s daughters has spoken at WE events, while another does contract work for the organization.
On July 8, both Trudeau and Morneau confirmed they did not recuse themselves from the vote that approved giving the contract to WE.
The controversy has spurred scrutiny from opposition parties, who have accused the prime minister of cronyism and conflict-of-interest violations.
— With files from the Canadian Press
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