It’s been nearly a year since Canadian politicians and the media began scrutinizing the work of WE Charity, which was accused of mismanaging the Canada Student Services Grant Program.
The founders of WE Charity, Marc Kielburger and Craig Kielburger, defended themselves in a second marathon appearance before the House of Commons ethics committee last month, which added little new information to the controversy.
One of the primary accusations during the brothers’ first June 2020 hearing was when Conservative MP Jacques Gourde questioned the Kielburgers about the ballooning size of the student summer program, which grew from an initial 20,000 student volunteers receiving $5,000 grants, to 100,000.
In the second hearing, Craig Kielburger made it clear that the ever-increasing size of the program came at the request of government officials at Employment and Social Services Canada — not WE Charity.
“It kept on changing at the request of the ESDC, and it kept on getting bigger and bigger and bigger at the request of the government,” Craig Kielburger said. “This was not being requested by us.”
But that wasn’t new information, considering that a report released in November had already reached that conclusion based on an intensive investigation.
According to Federal Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion, Investigator Matthew Torigian, and several forensic experts: “The evidence is clear that the government reached out to WE Charity, not the reverse.”
The report had little effect on the debate.
Since then, politicians have continued to make accusations about the management of the program, often on social media. The political and media firestorm that grew from the actions of Canadian leaders ultimately led to WE Charity suspending many of its operations in September 2020.
Some have come to the defense of WE Charity, like philanthropist Chip Wilson, who said the Kielburgers had become the latest victim of “cancel culture.”
Since summer 2020, Canadian politicians have come after the Kielburgers in force. Before the hearing, Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre published a Tweet asserting Parliament’s right to “take individuals into custody” and punish the Kielburgers with imprisonment.
As a National Post column noted, this is “puzzling.”
“Why are Parliamentary committees (three, by last count) investigating a private organization? Is that not what law enforcement agencies are for?” Guy Giorno wrote for the National Post. “Canadians may rightly ask whether it is Parliament’s place to investigate the conduct of private citizens, businesses, organizations and charities…one need only to look at the United States experience to see why elected bodies of partisan politicians are ill-suited to substitute for investigative agencies, juries, and courts.”
The brothers announced in September the charity was closing its Canadian operations. The same day, “certain members of Parliament got on their social media accounts to inflame people,” Craig Kielburger said in last month’s hearing.
Many media outlets published the two brothers’ home addresses. As a result, someone showed up at Craig Kielburger’s doorstep to confront his wife, he said.
“My youngest isn’t even one year old and he’s already received death threats directed to him…My three-and-a-half-year-old can’t play outside anymore,” Craig Kielburger said. “This has been beyond words.”
WE Charity was asked to run the $912-million Student Services Grant Program in the summer of 2020.
Politicians opposed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have accused the WE Charity founders of abusing their relationship with him, former finance minister Bill Morneau, and the politicians’ families.
As noted by several news organizations, including The Canadian Press, thousands of government documents released in summer 2020 supported the argument from Liberal party members that it was public servants that had recommended WE run the government program — not the Kielburgers.
Craig and Marc Kielburger told the House of Commons that they “are taking a stand” after their charity was “destroyed by political crossfire.” One media outlet described the appearance of the two brothers as “grief-stricken.”