Commons Lawyer says government went too far in drafting WE charity documents

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The House of Commons law clerk says officials went too far in drafting WE’s charity documents released to MPs last week – and warns the cuts may have violated a production order from the Finance Committee of hand over all internal correspondence related to summer scholarships for students. program. The government has released thousands of pages of documents related to the WE case, as the committee requested last month. But rather than asking the independent law clerk to redact certain information, such as Cabinet confidences and personal information, the various departments responsible for this failed program made the power cuts themselves – an apparent contravention of the government’s request. committee.

The end result was hundreds of blank pages and blackened content – information known only to officials who wrote the content in red pencil.

They willfully ignored the will of the committee in order to cover up the truth and protect Justin Trudeau’s reputation.– Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre

The Finance Committee requested all the notes relating to the WE’s charitable contribution agreement and made it clear that any redactions should be “done by the Office of the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel of the House of Commons” – not by government censors.

Last week, a spokesperson for the Prime Minister’s Office told CBC News the redactions were carried out by the parliamentary law clerk, who was following the committee’s instructions to remove documents covered by Cabinet confidentiality and personal information about Canadian citizens.

But that coroner, Philippe Dufresne, said in a confidential August 18 letter to the finance committee clerk that the vast majority of the power cuts were made by government bureaucrats – and some relevant information relating to the deal’s deal. $ 912 million with WE may have been denied, which could constitute a breach of parliamentary privilege.

The Ottawa-based iPolitics newspaper made an initial report on Dufresne’s letter.

Dufresne raised red flags about the drafting process, saying his office had not had the opportunity to review the written materials in their original form as the committee had expected. He also said that the redactions carried out by his office were limited to the personal information of officials working on this file.

“The documents had already been redacted by departments to protect personal information and for other reasons. As my office has not had the opportunity to see the unredacted documents, we are unable to confirm whether these redactions are in accordance with the Committee’s order, ”said Dufresne in his correspondence with David Gagnon, the Clerk. of the Finance Committee.

“The ministries have done certain redactions of documents for reasons that were not foreseen in the committee’s order. We note that the power of the House and its committees to order the production of documents is absolute and unfettered as it constitutes a constitutional parliamentary privilege that supersedes statutory obligations, such as the exemptions provided for in the Access to Law Act. information. ”

(The provisions of the Access to Information Act are commonly used to justify the disclosure of censored material to journalists and the general public.)

“The House and its committees are the appropriate authority to determine whether or not reasons for withholding documents should be accepted,” Dufresne added.

Opposition parties said documents that have been released so far challenge Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s claim that he first learned that officials are recommending WE Charity administer the program. grants before a Cabinet meeting on May 8.

Emails released show that senior officials in his office – including Rick Theis, the director of policy and cabinet affairs – had meetings with the charity about their proposal to administer the program before that date. .

An April 20 email from Michelle Kovacevic, a senior finance official, said the “PMO is leaning” on the WE field to distribute support to students.

The same official called former Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s senior officials “besties” with the directors of WE Charity in a May 7 email. Morneau team members worked with WE in April on how best to design the grant program.

Craig Kielburger, the co-founder of WE, later thanked Ben Chin, one of Trudeau’s senior advisers, in a June LinkedIn post for his “kindness in helping to shape our latest agenda with the government.”

Pierre Poilievre, the Conservative finance critic, said today he believes the government has ordered bureaucrats to withhold key information related to the scandal to protect the Prime Minister from further scrutiny.

“They have deliberately ignored the will of the committee in order to cover up the truth and protect Justin Trudeau’s reputation,” Poilievre said in an interview with CBC. “The coroner was tasked with combing through all the documents and redacting any Cabinet confidences or any other information that needed to be kept in public view. Instead, the Trudeau government made its own redactions.

“I think the plan, Trudeau’s plan, is to try to cover up the facts of this scandal until the fall when he forces a snap election, in the hope that none of this, no truth will emerge. will be revealed before Canadians surrender to This government, under his leadership, goes to great lengths to bury everything until Canadians have voted. ”

WE Charity co-founders Craig (left) and Marc Kielburger present Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his wife Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau during WE Day celebrations in Ottawa on Tuesday, November 10, 2015 (Adrian Wyld / The Canadian Press)

After Morneau’s abrupt resignation on August 17, Trudeau prorogued Parliament until the end of September, shutting down House of Commons committees studying the WE issue. Prorogation means committees are powerless to challenge redactions to WE documents.

Opposition parties will have the opportunity to vote against the government – and force an election – after a September 23 speech from the throne by Governor General Julie Payette.

Poilievre said the government should immediately turn over the original documents in question to the law clerk so he can decide what may and may not be released to parliamentarians.

A senior government official, speaking in the background Thursday, admitted that bureaucrats and the law clerk had made changes to documents handed to MPs.

But the official said the government issued a number of cabinet memos related to the WE issue – even though the committee had explicitly called for the exclusion of those documents – as proof of good faith.

The Prime Minister’s Office referred all questions on this matter to the Privy Council Office (PCO), the government body that serves the Prime Minister and Cabinet and coordinates the work of various federal departments.

Pierre-Alain Bujold, spokesperson for the BCP, dismissed the question of whether the government would return the documents – in their original state – for examination by the legal expert.

He did not say why the bureaucrats took responsibility for the redactions, despite the committee’s order.

“Every effort has been made to disclose as much information as possible to the committee, and indeed Cabinet confidences regarding the Canada Summer Student Scholarship Program have been disclosed,” Bujold said in a statement.

“A limited amount of information has been protected. ”

In fact, over a quarter of all documents provided to the finance committee were written in whole or in part.

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