WE Charity to restructure, cancel WE Day events amid Trudeau ethics investigation
OTTAWA -- WE Charity, the organization at the centre of an ongoing ethics investigation into Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, just announced its plan to undertake "governance and structural changes" and "return to its roots."
As part of this plan, the charity says it will undertake a "formal organizational review" and cancel all WE Day events for the "foreseeable future."
"Reflecting the realities of COVID-19, we are cancelling WE Day activities for the foreseeable future. We are proud to have hosted 137 WE Days welcoming over 1.5 million students who earned their free tickets by contributing 70 million hours of service to 3,000+ charities and causes," WE Charity wrote in a statement, released Wednesday.
Events put on by the charity are at the heart of a new scandal rocking Trudeau's government.
Trudeau is currently being investigated by Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion 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.
The government is now looking to Service Canada to potentially run the program, as the students whom it was meant to help remain in limbo.
Both Trudeau and Finance Minister Bill Morneau have apologized for not removing themselves from conversations about granting WE Charity the now-cancelled sole-sourced contract, given their personal connections to the organization.
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.
Morneau's office has also confirmed that his daughters have connections to the charity, and he also did not recuse himself from the decision-making table. The finance minister's daughter Clare has spoken at WE events, and his daughter Grace is currently employed by WE Charity.
Conservative ethics critic Michael Barrett said the latest controversy reflects a pattern within the Liberal government.
“There’s a culture in this Liberal government that they believe they're above the rules, they're above the law,” Barrett told CTV News.
The ethics commissioner’s investigation marks the third time that Trudeau has been probed over ethics questions. In 2017, former ethics commissioner Mary Dawson found that Trudeau violated conflict-of-interest laws in accepting a vacation to the Aga Khan’s private island. In 2019, Trudeau was again found to have broken ethics rules for exerting pressure over former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould in the SNC-Lavalin affair.
Speaking to the new investigation into the WE scandal, Dawson, who retired from the Department of Justice in 2018, called Trudeau’s behaviour “an error of judgment.”
“It's a little surprising that this case has come along. It's not the same as but it's not dissimilar from the Aga Khan case, really,” Dawson told CTV News.
In the Wednesday statement announcing their decision to review and restructure their organization, WE Charity said it plans to prioritize its international development work.
"International development is where we began, and it is where the need for our services is greatest," the statement read.
The charity also wrote that its service-learning programs will still be offered in North America, though only through digital platforms.
Finally, WE Charity said its organizational structure has become "more complicated than it needs to be," and that it is seeking to make the governance system "easier to understand and more transparent for all our stakeholders."
The organization said it hopes to achieve these changes through a review, led by management consulting company Korn Ferry.
"By making these changes within our organization, WE can move forward to the next 25 years of impact focused on what matters most: the communities and youth we serve," WE Charity said in the statement.
With files from CTV News' Rachel Aiello, Graham Slaughter and CTV News' Noah Richardson