WE Charity controversy worsens as real estate holdings and school programs questioned
Canadian charity WE has had a tough few weeks.
The organization — formerly known as Free the Children — has been making headlines for all the wrong reasons since the beginning of the month, when it now-famously backed out of the federal government's Student Service Grant, a near-billion dollar program that WE was due to administer (for a paycheque of as much as $43 million).
The decision was based on the charity's ties to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's family, which were only recently brought to light and included his wife Sophie, mother Margaret and brother Alexandre being paid a combined amount of more than $280,000 for WE speaking engagements.
Two daughters of Canadian Finance Minister Bill Morneau have also been found to have links to the charity — one was a one-time speaker, and another is a current employee.
Conservatives have called for a criminal investigation into the conflict of interest, which has become grounds for Trudeau's third potential ethics violation.
The Ethics Commissioner has agreed to my request to launch an investigation into @JustinTrudeau for breach of Section 7 of the Conflict of Interest Act over the decision to hand a single source contract of $900 million to WE.— Charlie Angus NDP (@CharlieAngusNDP) July 3, 2020
Much more information has since emerged to add to the scandal, including revelations about how much government funding has gone to the charity during Trudeau's tenure as PM: a total of at least $5.5 million, a significant jump from previous years.
And, on top of all the controversy swirling around WE's connection to Ottawa, the organization and its founders Marc and Craig Kielburger are coming under fire for a slew of other accusations, from racism and toxic workplace culture, to its $50 million in coveted Canadian real estate, to its questionable practices in partnerships with school boards.
The Toronto District School Board is currently reviewing its relationship with the organization, which has been described by researchers as somewhat cult-like, in the vein of new secular spiritual movements.
My daughter was in Me to We club ... lots of $$ raised for the charity, was given tickets to Me to We event at ACC and felt pressured to buy their bracelets T-shirt’s etc. Never had a good feeling about this “charity” @tdsb https://t.co/8tjYlBu4fO— andermari (@AndersonMari7) July 21, 2020
WE has vowed to cancel all forthcoming events and review its policies amid the ongoing drama, while Trudeau has publicly apologized for not recusing himself from the discussions of which organization should be tapped for the sole-source contract.
(He was, though, notably absent from the House of Commons on Monday, which Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer found suspicious given the recent developments concerning WE).
I had no knowledge of #WECharity before this scandal, but learning more daily - shady real estate deals, schools now re-evaluating relationship, WE restructuring, accusations of pay less than min, etc. Where there's smoke, there's fire. Hard to blame the opposition for this.— Jared Dapena (@JaredDapena) July 21, 2020
The Kielburgers are slated to meet with a committee at the House of Commons on July 28 to speak about WE's failed partnership with the federal government — which was apparently going to see students receiving less than minimum wage via grants — and the circumstances surrounding it.
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