Kielburgers “devastated” by closure of We Charity but say “there is no one to blame”


TORONTO – WE Charity sells its assets, eliminates staff, and goes out of business in Canada months after being embroiled in a political scandal that sparked investigations from the federal ethics watchdog. The charity announced on Wednesday that due to financial pressure and the loss of sponsors, it plans to sell tens of millions of dollars in assets, including real estate in Toronto, in hopes of keep its international humanitarian programs afloat.

Co-founder Craig Kielburger, who started the charity when he was 12, said he was devastated by the decision and admitted he never expected the political storm after WE Charity accepted a now canceled deal to offer a student scholarship program for the Liberal government. .

The contract worth up to $ 43.5 million came under scrutiny after it was revealed that the families of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and former Finance Minister Bill Morneau had both have ties to the charity.

“I wish some politicians would recuse themselves, but we won’t blame anyone,” Craig Kielburger told CTV News anchor and editor Lisa LaFlamme in an exclusive interview Wednesday.

“It was a pandemic. It was a political process, it was a rush to bring out an initiative. We were naive about politics. I just wish that in all politics people thought about what was lost.

He and his brother, co-founder Marc Kielburger, plan to leave the organization once the process of shutting down Canadian operations is complete.

“The simple math is that now the charity spends more than it brings back,” he says.

Marc Kielburger confessed he was “angry with the situation” and said he doesn’t think the charity would cease its Canadian operations if it hadn’t accepted the government’s offer.

“But if you ask us if we had a chance to answer that phone call again, I would say yes, we would. As crazy as it may be, in a pandemic where the opportunity to help 100,000 young people in this country, the opportunity to raise my hand, I would do it again, ”he said.

In the coming months, the charity will sell its assets, including all of its real estate. Money from the multi-million dollar sale will go to an endowment fund to fund global projects such as WE Charity’s hospital, college and agricultural learning center, as well as to fund WE Villages projects in Latin America, Asia and Africa to complete.

Marc Kielburger said he expects the fund to maintain these initiatives for “generations to come”.

The organization says that in the future it will not set up any new schools or agricultural projects in any of the nine countries where it operates. In Canada, all staff at the charity will be laid off, but its educational resources, including the teacher program, will remain available online for free.

Without Canadian personnel, annual WE Day events will be permanently canceled.

Marc Kielburger said the sale will also help pay off the charity’s existing debts.

“So much has been lost in this process, in this political quagmire, in politics and in the pandemic, but at least something good can come of it, and this endowment is an opportunity for us to do something. And again, we can’t save everything, but that’s what we want to save, these projects, both at home and in the world, ”he said.

Marc Kielburger also denied that accepting the government contract had anything to do with making money for the charity, which – like many charities – faced challenges. intense financial hardship during the pandemic.

“There was no possibility of profit,” he said.

Asked about any direct communication with Trudeau, Craig Kielburger denied such contact and supported Trudeau’s claim that it was the bureaucrats who brought the proposal forward first.

“We never spoke to Justin Trudeau on the phone, ever. I don’t have his email, I don’t know how to reach them, ”he says.

After the Liberal government announced the deal with WE Charity in June to offer the Canada Student Services Grant, ties to the families of Trudeau and Morneau emerged.

Trudeau’s mother, Margaret Trudeau, spoke at approximately 28 WE charity events and received $ 250,000 in speaking fees between 2016 and 2020. The Prime Minister’s brother, Alexandre Trudeau, also spoke at eight WE charity events from 2017 to 2018 and received a total of approximately $ 32,000.

In addition, Trudeau’s wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, received a “one-time honorarium” of $ 1,400 for attending a youth event in 2012, before Trudeau became leader of the Liberal Party.

Meanwhile, WE Charity paid, in part, for two trips that members of the de Morneau family took in 2017 – one of which was in Morneau himself.

Morneau apologized for the “mistake” and said it was fully his intention to cover the full cost of the trips – although it was not until July that he reimbursed the $ 41,000 that the charity had initially covered for trips to Kenya and Ecuador. The daughter of the former finance minister, Clare, also spoke at the WE events, and her daughter Grace was employed by WE Charity until August.

Morneau has since resigned as finance minister and MP, although he does not directly attribute the decision to the WE controversy.

Trudeau and Morneau both apologized for not recusing themselves from the discussions. Trudeau insisted he was not in a real position of conflict during conversations about the Canada Student Services Grant – but rather that he was subject to a perception of conflict.

The Prime Minister also expressed concern about the choice of WE Charity when he learned of its existence. He expressed concern about a perception of conflict and therefore called on the public service to “put the brakes” to ensure that the organization was really the only one that could have offered the program.

WE Charity’s decision to cease operations in Canada comes on the same year as its 25th anniversary.

With files from Rachel Gilmore from in Ottawa


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