The charity connected to a recent political scandal that caused an ethics investigation into Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is shutting down its Canadian operations.
On Wednesday, WE Charity announced that it was closing its Canadian operations and selling off millions in assets. Brothers Craig and Marc Kielburger, who founded and ran the charity, will be leaving the organization.
The charity was caught up in a political firestorm after the Liberals handed WE, a private organization, a $900 million Canada Student Service Grant contract this spring. The program was meant to help students who couldn’t get summer jobs because of the coronavirus. Later, it emerged that Trudeau’s family had ties to the charity and were paid thousands of dollars for speaking at various WE events. The grant program has since been cancelled.
Trudeau apologized and said he should have recused himself from the decision-making process. He is being investigated by the ethics commissioner for the decision to give WE the contract, the third ethics investigation for Trudeau since he was elected in 2015. In both of the previous cases, the ethics commissioner found Trudeau to be at fault.
Bill Morneau, the Canadian finance minister at the time, also had ties to the charity and stepped down from his role because of the scandal. Morneau, like Trudeau, is also being investigated by the ethics commissioner for the decision. In a separate decision, the commissioner ruled on Thursday Morneau had broken federal election rules in the lead up to the 2019 election and must pay a $300 fine and post an apology on his website and social media pages.
In a statement posted to its website, WE said it made the decision to pull out of Canada because of both the pandemic and the scandal.
“COVID-19 significantly disrupted WE Charity programming,” the statement says. “The fallout from the Canada Student Service Grant has placed the charity in the middle of political battles and misinformation that a charity is ill-equipped to fight. As a result, the financial math for the charity’s future is clear.”
Speaking to CTV, Craig Kielburger said he was devastated by the decision and partially tied the downfall of the charity to Trudeau.
“I wish that the certain politicians had recused themselves, but there's no one we blame,” Kielburger said. “This was a pandemic. It was a political process, it was a rush to get an initiative out the door. We were naive on the politics.”
The company said the money made from selling off its assets will be put into an endowment “to sustain the charity’s existing international humanitarian programs and digitize its Canadian educational resources.”
Craig Kielburger founded WE in 1995 when he was 12 and it grew to be one of the largest in Canada. The charity helped implement development programs overseas but is perhaps best known for hosting massive events called WE Days where politicians and celebrities speak to kids about the importance of activism.
The revelation of the Canada Student Service Grant decision raised multiple questions about WE’s finances and intentionally confusing corporate structure.
Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion told the CBC the charity’s decision to cease Canadian operations will have no impact on the investigation.
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