The Liberals and opposition parties battled for hours in two committee meetings on Oct. 15 over the reopening of the WE Charity investigation and the release of redacted documents.
The finance committee debated for 11 hours over a motion brought by the Conservatives to denounce the redactions of roughly 5,000 pages of WE documents released by the Liberals in August.
Liberal MPs Peter Fragiskatos and Julie Dzerowicz repeatedly defended the blacked-out portions of the documents, saying they contain the phone numbers of civil servants or the codes of conference-call lines of the government.
Finance critic Pierre Poilievre wasn’t convinced, saying on Twitter: “Liberals enter 9th hour of filibustering Finance Committee motion to unblackout WE scandal documents. There must be some bombshells in those docs for them to go to these lengths.”
Meanwhile, the ethics committee spent 10 hours debating a Conservative motion to call on Speakers' Spotlight, the agency that arranged speaking engagements for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's wife, mother, and brother at WE Charity events, to hand over 12 years of receipts for the trio's paid appearances.
Liberal members of the ethics committee complained that delving into the financial affairs of the prime minister’s relatives go beyond their involvement with WE. They also argued that the scope proposed by the motion should be handled by the ethics commissioner instead of MPs.
In addition, the Liberals digressed to topics unrelated to the WE affair. MP Han Dong stressed that the ethics committee should instead focus their discussion on anti-racism strategies and the impact of facial recognition technology on people of colour.
When opposition MPs questioned the relevancy of Dong’s suggestion, Liberal MP Greg Fergus, chair of the parliamentary Black caucus, intervened saying that they interrupted Dong due to unconscious bias.
“I know it's not the intent of my honourable colleagues, but it just reminds me of the micro-aggressions that a lot of Canadians of colour face. I don't hear other members being interrupted,” he said, urging them to allow Dong to continue speaking.
New Democrat MP Charlie Angus countered that if the Liberals want to get on with a study of facial-recognition technology or anything else, they need only let the WE documents motion come to a vote and the committee could move on.
“I'm asking him not to play games, not to throw these heavily loaded insinuations down at my colleagues,” Angus said. “If he wants to talk about something, just bring this to a vote so we can get this thing done.”
Liberal MP Francesco Sorbara argued that the motion violates the privacy of the prime minister’s mother and brother.
Conservative MPs countered that the Liberals are engaged in covering up for Trudeau.
“The action of a multi-day filibuster by members of the government is a government-led coverup,” said Conservative ethics critic Michael Barrett.
Both meetings ended with no resolution when the Bloc Quebecois MPs joined the Liberals in voting to pause, but the finance committee was scheduled to continue their debate on Oct. 16.
However, the meeting was cancelled that morning, according to opposition parties.
“After promising to call a Finance Committee for 11am today, the Liberal Chair reneged and canceled today’s hearing,” Poilievre wrote on Twitter.
“Trudeau is prepared to grind committees to a halt to keep the truth from coming out in the WE scandal.”
NDP MP Peter Julian also announced the cancellation on Twitter, at the same time criticizing the Liberals for stalling over 200 hours to prevent disclosure of the redacted documents.
“What is the Prime Minister hiding?” he wrote.
Angus took to Twitter on Oct. 16, saying Trudeau, who once championed more access to information, is now doing the opposite.
WE Charity, which was to have been paid $43.5 million to manage a now-defunct federal student volunteering program, disclosed that it paid Margaret and Alexandre Trudeau more than $350,000 over the years.
Trudeau's family ties to WE Charity plunged the student grant program into controversy the moment it was announced last June. WE pulled out within days and has since repaid all money advanced by the federal government to run the program.
Four committees, including the ethics and finance committees, had launched or were preparing to launch investigations into the affair when Trudeau prorogued Parliament, bringing all committee work to a halt.