The vindication of Craig and Marc Kielburger

WE Charity

With the lifting of Canada’s last COVID-19 related mandates on October 1, Canadians are taking stock of  the collateral damage inflicted by the pandemic. Beyond the tragic loss of over 45,000 lives, there have been devastating impacts on Canada’s economy, small business and mental health. 

Among the hardest hit have been Canada’s young people, with one study determining that close to 70% of children and youth (aged 6 to 18) “experienced deterioration in at least one mental health domain” due to the pandemic. 

The plight of these children could have been better mitigated if not for the political scandal that lead to the closure of Canada’s most prominent youth charity, and the public attacks of its two founders, brothers Marc Kielburger and Craig Kielburger.

Prior to the pandemic, the brothers were lauded as Canadian heroes for their humanitarian work around the globe, with each being named to the Order of Canada – the country’s highest civilian award. They spent over 25 years championing youth and youth mental health, and were among the first to recognize the mental toll the pandemic was taking on young people. 

But shortly after they stepped up to support Canadian youth by agreeing to administer a federal grant program – the Canada Student Service Grant (CSSG) – for post-secondary students during the first summer of the pandemic, the brothers became cannon fodder in a political smear campaign. 

The so-called “WE Charity Scandal”, a creation of Canada’s opposition parties and the select national media looking for clicks and eyeballs, was nothing more than a political attack against Prime Minister Trudeau and the governing Liberals. 

Guy Giorno, former Chief of Staff to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, put it this way, “WE Charity was caught up in political machinations by partisan actors, and the victims in this affair were, unfortunately, the many young people that benefited from WE’s programming and initiatives.” 

To be clear, the “scandal” was never about the WE Charity or the Kielburgers. It was a proxy war waged by the NDP and Conservative party against Trudeau, amplified by the certain Canadian media. 

As outlined in a book on the affair, What WE Lost by Tawfiq Rangwala, after months of having nothing to report on beyond the government’s handling of the pandemic, which was initially praised, the controversy over the CSSG provided an opportunity to attack Trudeau. Select media and the opposition politicians gleefully fed off each other for months to fan the flames of the perceived scandal, all in an effort to make Trudeau look bad. 

But once the damage was done, the same Canadian media was quick to move on. Despite being thoroughly vindicated through multiple independent investigations, including forensic auditors, there was no attempt by the same media or the culpable politicians to correct the record, let alone apologize to the Kielburgers.  

For example, Canada’s Federal Ethics Commissioner was pressured by the opposition parties to investigate the affair. As outlined in his final report into the matter, he determined that neither the Charity nor Mr. Trudeau did anything wrong, stating “I am satisfied that Mr. Trudeau did not give preferential treatment to WE.”

The Stillman Foundation, a long time supporter of WE Charity, paid for and conducted its own investigation headed someone with irrefutable credentials, the former deputy solicitor general for Ontario – Matt Torigian, and supported by one of Canada’s top forensic accounts, Dr. Al Rosen. Their investigation was summarized in an article in the Toronto Star headlined “Forensic analysis exonerates WE Charity.“

Even former Conservative Prime Minister Kim Campbell called the WE Charity “scandal” a “story how disinformation can take a life of its own”, a statement directed, in part, to certain members of her own party.

The same Canadian media has also been completely silent about WE Charity’s 200+ page lawsuit against the CBC filed in February 2022 In US courts, in response to “false and defamatory reports” by network’s news program, The Fifth Estate. The lawsuit provides hundreds of pages of e-mails and documents which compellingly calls out the CBC for its reporting that claimed the charity had mislead donors supporting the charity’s work in Kenya. 

Beyond the lawsuit, dozens of the biggest donors for the charity’s work in Kenya wrote an open letter published in the Globe and Mail, among other papers, (“We Stand with WE Charity”) to CBC making it clear they were never mislead, and that they continued to fully support WE and the Kielburgers.

Among the signatories was Chip Wilson, the billionaire founder of lululemon. Mr. Wilson, who wrote his own article in defence of the charity, stating “My family and I saw first-hand how the Kielburgers put children first. The destruction of a charity that has done so much good was unjustified.”

It is a sad statement on our times when a few loud, angry politicians can throw around baseless accusations under the immunity provided by Parliamentary Privilege to destroy the reputations of ordinary Canadians, for the sole purpose of scoring cheap political points. 

And despite irrefutable evidence that there was no wrongdoing by the Kielburgers in the CSSG matter or beyond, there has been no apology. This needs to change.

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