PM Trudeau's mother, brother and wife were paid to speak at WE Charity events
OTTAWA -- Members of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s family were paid a total of nearly $300,000 over the last four years to speak at WE Charity events.
The charity group is at the centre of an ethics investigation into Trudeau.
Trudeau's mother, Margaret Trudeau, spoke at approximately 28 events and was paid $250,000 in speaking honorariums between 2016 and 2020. His brother, Alexandre Trudeau, also spoke at eight events from 2017 to 2018 and was paid a total of approximately $32,000.
Over $60,000 of that money, which is typically doled out by corporate sponsors, was paid directly to Margaret Trudeau by the charity as the result of what WE Charity referred to as an "error" in billing and payment.
In addition to this, Trudeau's wife, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, received a "one-time speaking honorarium" of $1,400 for participating in a youth event in 2012 before Trudeau became leader of the Liberal Party. The organization said all her other time spent participating in WE events and hosting a podcast series for the charity was "donated." This was confirmed to CTV News by Martin Perlmuter, president and CEO of Speakers' Spotlight.
WE Charity also confirmed the payments made to Trudeau's mother and brother in statements sent to CTV News, shortly after Canadaland, which has reported extensively on WE, first broke the story on Twitter.
WE Day is an event that WE Charity organizes alongside corporate partners who sponsor speakers to participate. One of those corporate sponsors is ME to WE Social Enterprise, which was the organization that paid Margaret Trudeau's speaking fees through the Speakers’ Spotlight Speakers' Bureau. Alexandre Trudeau was also paid through Speakers' Spotlight.
However, while the two were paid a total of over $300,000 to speak at the events, over $60,000 of Margaret Trudeau’s speaking fees were paid directly by the charity.
The charity called this an "error in billing/payment" that was discovered through an "internal review."
"For these speeches the charity paid the speakers' bureau directly, and the charity was reimbursed by ME to WE Social Enterprise for their sponsorship of the speeches," WE Charity said in a statement sent to CTV News.
WE Charity said neither they nor ME to WE Social Enterprise have ever paid Justin Trudeau for any speeches or other matters. He has also spoken at a number of WE events globally.
Sophie Gregoire Trudeau is an ambassador with the organization and hosts a mental health podcast under its name.
In an emailed statement sent to CTVNews.ca, Chantal Gagnon, a spokesperson for the Prime Minister's Office, said Trudeau's relatives "engage with a variety of organizations and support many personal causes on their own accord."
"What is important to remember here is that this is about a charity supporting students. The Canada Student Service Grant program is about giving young people opportunities to contribute to their communities, not about benefits to anyone else," she said in the statement.
However, the charity is already at the centre of an ethics investigation into Trudeau over his potential conflict of interest with the organization.
The federal ethics commissioner launched an investigation into Trudeau last Friday over his government's now-cancelled decision to have WE Charity manage a $900-million federal program, which is slated to pay students and new graduates for their volunteer work this summer.
While the charity has backed out of the management of the program following days of controversy, Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion said in a letter addressed to Conservative MP Michael Barrett that the Tory MP’s request for an investigation "satisfies the requirements" laid out in the Conflict of Interest Act.
Specifically, Barrett alleges that Trudeau violated a provision in the Act that "prohibits public office holders from making any decision or participating in the making of a decision that furthers their private interests or improperly furthers the private interests of another person."
He claims that Trudeau had a duty to recuse himself from any discussion or decision relating to WE Charity, given the prime minister's close ties to the organization and his wife’s involvement, and that Trudeau violated the Act when he announced that WE Charity would administer the Canada Student Service Grant.
Barrett also alleges Trudeau violated another section of the Act that deals with affording preferential treatment when he said WE Charity was the "only organization" qualified to run the program -- given the existence of other national volunteer organizations.
The ethics watchdog found that Barrett's allegations satisfied the requirements of the Act and has launched an investigation into both possible contraventions. Dion notes in his letter that Trudeau has been informed of the investigation.
Gagnon said in a statement sent to CTVNews.ca on Friday that the prime minister plans to "collaborate" with the commissioner and will "answer any questions he may have."
'JUSTIN TRUDEAU MUST STEP ASIDE'
Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet has called on the prime minister to "step aside" while the commissioner investigates.
"In light of new revelations, Justin Trudeau must step aside as Prime minister until the ethics commissioner's investigation is completed," he told CTV News in a statement on Thursday.
Blanchet wasn’t the only political voice calling for action after the latest news. Barrett, the Conservative MP who was one of those who initially requested the ethics commissioner investigation, released a statement calling on Parliament to be recalled "immediately" to "get to the bottom of this."
"All of the documents related to the contract must be made public. Every single Cabinet Minister needs to come clean about whether or not they knew that the Prime Minister's family had a financial relationship with WE Charity when they approved this massive contract," Barrett said in the statement.
"Canadians deserve answers and the Prime Minister and his government must be held accountable."
NDP MP Charlie Angus also weighed in on the latest revelation during a Thursday interview with CTV News Channel. He called the development "disturbing."
"Now we learn that throughout his time as prime minister, his family members were receiving enormous amounts of money. How is he not aware of that? I find that hard to believe," said Angus.
MPs have taken steps to dig into the issue using the parliamentary tools available to them. The House standing committee on government operations and estimates voted on Thursday night to undertake a study into the government's now-cancelled decision to grant WE Charity the sole-sourced contract, which comes in addition to the recently agreed upon House finance committee study into the same issue.
With files from CTV News' Mackenzie Gray