Kielburgers Defend WE Charity, Blast Committee Hearing as Political Trial

March 15, 2021 Updated: March 15, 2021

OTTAWA—Craig and Marc Kielburger say a parliamentary committee’s study into WE Charity is nothing short of a political trial, accusing MPs of trying to score points at the expense of children around the world.

The brothers delivered the indictment of the House of Commons ethics committee this afternoon as they defended WE’s operations and structure as well as the since-cancelled agreement to have it manage a federal student-grant program.

“Let us be clear: this hearing is a trial, and a public one at that,” Marc Kielburger said during his opening statement to the committee, “Without recognizing our right to present our own evidence, this committee is trying WE Charity in the court of public opinion and forcing testimony.”

Marc said he and his brother set up various WE operations because of outdated restrictions on how Canadian charities can operate, and that everything they did was to help poor children abroad.

He also said they had the best intentions when they agreed to help the federal Liberal government run the multimillion-dollar Canada Student Services Grant program, which has since been cancelled.

The arrangement saw WE given a $543-million sole-sourced contract that would have paid it up to $43.5 million to run the program, which was designed to cover up to $5,000 in education costs for students who volunteered during the COVID-19 pandemic. The contract also stipulated the organization would not make money on the arrangement.

WE Charity pulled out of the deal, and the program was eventually cancelled, amid allegations of a conflict of interest due to close ties between WE and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, former finance minister Bill Morneau and members of their families.

“Given a chance to do good for 100,000 students and other charities during the pandemic, WE Charity agreed to help,” Marc said.

“We didn’t advise the prime minister and Mr. Morneau not to recuse themselves. We never prorogued Parliament. We were not involved in the decision to filibuster this committee last fall. This is a political scandal for the government, not for WE Charity.”

But Marc Kielburger said the Toronto-based organization has become a casualty as opposition parties try to undermine the government by attacking the deal with WE, blasting NDP ethics critic Charlie Angus in particular for having asked the RCMP and Canada Revenue Agency to look into its operations.

He also took aim at the Conservatives and the Liberal government, which he accusing of having “hid behind a children’s charity by letting it take the fall for their political decisions—and the opposition allowed them.”

The two brothers, whose appearance had been in doubt after an extraordinary back and forth with MPs last week over their conditions for responding to the committee’s summons, are scheduled to testify for three hours.

By Lee Berthiaume