Racialized former WE employees accused charity of oppressive incidents
TORONTO -- Former employees of WE Charity are speaking up against what they see as oppressive incidents against racialized people within the organization.
Last month, former WE employee Amanda Maitland posted a video to her Instagram in which she says she was hired in 2018 to speak on racism during a tour of schools in Calgary.
Maitland said after a few presentations in Calgary, Maitland flew to Toronto for a feedback meeting with members of the charity. It was during this meeting that a panel of predominantly white employees handed her a re-written speech for her to use instead of the one she had written herself for the presentations.
“I almost fell off my chair when I was given a new speech to read,” Maitland said in the video. “There was no heads up or dialogue that the team on the back end felt the need to change my speech.”
“I feel like there was so much lack of understanding and that just made me angry and that’s just an honest emotion. I was angry. I felt completely dismissed.”
WE is the largest youth empowerment organization in Canada, founded by brothers Marc and Craig Kielburger.
Maitland said the new speech was a “watered down” version of the one that she had been presenting and removed much of the personal experiences she had been speaking about.
"They wanted me to talk about just stuff like the Oscars and cornrows,” she told CTV News.
During a town hall about the work culture at WE, Maitland said she brought up some of her issues with the organization and was shut down by Marc Kielburger.
"(He) silenced me completely, to be like ... ‘We heard you, we got your email, you tried to reach out, enough,'” she said.
"There's definitely is a problem with race, there's definitely a problem with diversity and there's definitely a problem with silencing of people of colour's voices."
Maitland resigned from the charity shortly afterwards.
The Kielburger brothers issued an open letter to Maitland last week, in which they apologized for her experience at WE and for not “sufficiently appreciating” her opinion during the town hall meeting.
“This is just the beginning of the work ahead of us to ensure we are an inclusive and diverse organization,” the brothers wrote in the letter. “We hope that dialogue will continue. We understand this movement, is in part, about really listening. If you would do so, we would greatly appreciate if you would be willing to participate in a formal process underway in the organization led by a diverse group of staff to channel learning into tangible actions.”
Since Maitland posted the video, several other former WE employees have come forward with their own stories when it comes to the culture at the organization.
“The overall culture of WE charity is deeply oppressive," said former employee Sarah Koff in an Instagram video.
More than 1,200 people have signed a Change.org petition, which calls for a formal apology from the Kielburgers, to hire women of colour to help transition the charity toward anti-racism and to offer free support services to any person of colour who’s been impacted by the charity’s practises, past and present. The petition has been endorsed by more than 200 current and former employees.
WE has also come under fire in recent weeks after it was revealed that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government had pegged the organization to manage its $900-million program to pay students and recent graduates for volunteer work over the summer.
Trudeau and his wife, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, have close ties to the organization.
WE and the federal government have since backed away from the deal, and a federal ethics watchdog has begun an investigation into the matter.