we charity

WE Charity embroiled in new scandal over racism and abuse of power

WE, the homegrown charity that now-famously backed out of helping to allocate funds for the Canadian government's Student Service Grant last week, is now facing a flurry of allegations of racism, abuse of power and more.

People were a bit skeptical when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the charity was the only one with the resources to handle distributing nearly $1 billion in federal money — especially because WE was due to receive at least $19.5 million for its assistance, and because Sophie Grégoire Trudeau is an ambassador for the organization.

And now, in the wake of WE abandoning the student grant — which some suggested it did to avoid scrutiny for its connections to the Trudeaus — unfavourable stories from former employees are coming to light.

I don’t want to be called courageous or brave for making this statement. Because this isn’t about bravery. It’s adding my voice to the fight for Black women to have the space and respect we deserve. While working @wemovement as a speaker and leadership facilitator, I was asked to give an anti-racism speech in which I shared my lived experiences. Without my consent and input, a panel of white men and women within the organization decided to rewrite my speech, stripping it of the truths I chose to share and repackaging the subject of anti-racism in a way they found palatable. Shortly after, in a meeting where staff was asked to offer feedback on the organization, I was belittled by WE’s founder @marckielburger for speaking up on the incident. Not only my voice as a Black woman silenced, I was punished for trying to reclaim it. this is just a snippet of the many experiences I endured. But I will not be silent anymore. I’m sharing this to encourage WE to pursue real change and address the anti-Blackness within the organization. #WeAreStrongerTogether #endingthesilence #blm

A post shared by Amanda Maitland (@iiam.amanda) on

Amanda Maitland, who served as a speaker and leadership facilitator at WE in 2018 and 2019, spoke out about her negative experience working for the charity and its founders Marc Kielburger and Craig Kielburger, who she alleges silenced her after executives completely rewrote an anti-racism speech she was due to deliver in Calgary.

"Without my consent and input, a panel of white men and women within the organization decided to rewrite my speech, stripping it of the truths I chose to share and repackaging the subject of anti-racism in a way they found palatable," Amanda shared last month in an Instagram video that has racked up nearly 20,000 views.

"I don't know if they understood how oppressive that is to take the personal stories of a Black woman who experiences a different kind of discrimination, who has experienced racism on a different level; to take her words, water them down, and present her with a speech without her knowledge."

The worst part, Maitland added, was that the team completely dismissed her response and refused to let her revise the speech's contents. They also failed to listen when she brought up the issue months later.

"I got push back... I felt invalidated and like nothing that I experienced even mattered," she said, questioning the charity's vision in launching an anti-racism speaking tour in the first place.

"This is why it's so important for people of colour to be in the room, they need to be at the table that is able to make decisions because then things like this would not happen."

The incident is allegedly just one of many she had at the organization.

The charity has since publicly apologized, telling Maitland that "we recognize that we operate with an unconscious bias — both as individuals and as organizations WE Charity and ME to WE. We recognize that we have much to learn. We are sincerely committed to that learning process."

Since Maitland shared her story, a petition calling for anti-racist action within the organization has garnered more than 1,200 signatures, including those of more than 150 former employees and 50 who still currently work for WE.

"Each employee signed (in the letter to the Board) has been a victim of, witnessed or been complicit to the abuse of power related to leadership. Today, we come forward in solidarity to seek transparency, accountability and due process," the petition, addressed to the WE Charity board of directors, reads.

"We have all personally witnessed actions against, or inaction against, Black, Indigenous and People Of Color (BIPOC) team members that corroborate many stories of overt racism, trauma from a culture of fear, abuse of power, silencing tactics and microaggressions being used."

At least two other former staffers have, like Maitland, gone public with their personal negative experiences at WE: James Powell, who opened up in a social media post, and Santai Kimakeke, who shared her story in a since-deleted blog post.

Powell, who was WE's Global Head of Brand, noted that he cannot fully speak about what happened during his tenure due to non-disclosure agreements.

"As an openly gay cis-gendered white man of extreme privilege, I too was harmed during my time at WE," Powell said in a video posted to social media on Tuesday.

Though Powell thanked WE executives for their public apology to Matiland, he added that the charity has some serious issues of conscious bias, not just the "unconscious bias" it expressed regrets for.

"I would [like you to acknowledge] the conscious, strategic, and coordinated abuse of power that you held over current and former employees, partners, donors and consumers."

The charity is vowing to take steps that include hiring a BIPOC woman educator, initiating what it calls "a formal listening process" to hear out current and former staff members, and implementing mandatory diversity and inclusivity training for all employees.

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