An unfortunate series of events surrounding one of Canada’s most welcomed charities has put a damper on WE Charity’s mission to help improve the lives of the world’s youth, no thanks to unethical politics and politicians. If you’ve caught a glimpse of the news, you know how the work of WE Charity founders, brothers Marc and Craig Kielburger, was tarnished over the organization’s role in a summer student grants contract.
WE Charity, which was founded by the Kielburgers in 1995, is an international development charity and youth empowerment movement that operates collaborative programs both domestically and internationally.
Prior to the start of the scandal, WE Charity was a major charity with a reputation for empowering communities to lift themselves out of poverty internationally. Then, the federal government announced that WE Charity would administer the Canada student service grant (CSSG), a $543 million program that was to be used as COVID-19 financial aid for post-secondary students.
What started out as seemingly good intentions turned into a public challenge for the Kielburger brothers, who were caught in the crossfires of three parties all seeking their own agendas during the politics of the pandemic.
Especially tragic since, as teenagers, it had been the dream of Marc and Craig Kielburger to create impactful philanthropy on a global scale.
In July 2020, the brothers were grilled for four hours in front of the House of Commons finance committee and testified that, despite assertions by opposition politicians, WE Charity was never in financial trouble when it agreed to take on the CSSG program. The Kielburgers even went on to say that the negative press coming from media looking to attack the government and false accusations of the opposition politicians had been a blow to their charity, as they only had intentions of helping, not hindering students from paying tuition. They acknowledged that WE Charity found itself in the middle of a political scandal that it was “ill-equipped” to fight in the face of minority government politics.
WE Charity has maintained that it was asked to deliver the CSSG program by federal bureaucrats and that the charity would not have benefited financially because the funds were only to be used to reimburse the charity for eligible costs to deliver the program.
An independent review by respected experts was commissioned by select WE Charity donors; the examination included over 5,000 pages of emails, documents and other relevant material released by the federal government. Moreover, a full forensic review was done as well on WE Charity, ME to WE and the Kielburgers.
Forensic accounting expert Dr. Al Rosen and Matthew Torigian, former Deputy Solicitor General for the province of Ontario, were among the ones who conducted the independent review into WE Charity to study process and financial matters.
Through the investigation, the evidence was clear.
There were no inappropriate dealings between the WE Canada entities and the government. Dr. Rosen and Mr. Torigian came to the conclusion that WE Charity was financially viable at the time of the signing of the CSSG funding agreement with the government and was not in any financial peril. The assertions coming from the politicians and certain pundits was false.
Dr. Rosen also examined the financial records of co-founders Marc Kielburger and Craig Kielburger, including their personal bank accounts, real estate history, tax returns and credit cards. The report concluded that there were no concerns in relation to interactions between WE Charity and ME to WE social enterprise. Again, the report found there were no inappropriate dealings between WE Charity and Canadian entities and the Kielburgers in relation to real estate or any financial benefits. In short, they had acted with integrity.
Most recently, former Finance Minister Bill Morneau was, himself, exonerated of conflict of interest charges over his participation in two volunteer trips for WE Charity.
Prior to his exoneration, Morneau was accused of not disclosing his trips with WE Charity, but always maintained his innocence that he had in fact paid for the entire cost of both. Federal Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion said: “I accept that you genuinely believed you had paid for the entire cost of both trips, including the portion of the trip that involved the use of non-commercial chartered aircraft.” Despite his innocence, Morneau was forced to resign from his seat in the House of Commons.
The Kielburgers, who by track record have put empowering children and young people first, understood their reach and used it to attract donors so they could engage school children in the importance of volunteerism.
All of this damage so politicians could score political points against each other.
Perhaps the biggest casualty in the whole debacle is WE Charity itself, which has now been forced to cease its Canadian operations. This all shows how nasty Canadian politics can be, as politicians of all stripes put themselves and their interests before the interests of Canadian children.