WE Charity to wind down Canadian operations amid student grant scandal
Published Wednesday, September 9, 2020 4:56PM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, September 9, 2020 11:36PM EDT
WE Charity is shutting down its Canadian operations amid a political scandal involving investigations by the federal ethics watchdog.
The organization says it plans to sell off its assets and create an endowment fund to keep its international humanitarian programs running and digitizing its educational resources so they can be accessed in the future.
WE Charity was founded by human rights activist Craig Kielburger 25 years ago to provide initiatives and programs to educate and empower young people around the world. The organization is known for its annual WE Day event where performers and notable speakers talk to thousands of students about the impact the organization has made on local and global issues.
Kielburger and his brother Marc, who is also a WE Charity co-founder, released a statement on the organization’s website and said they are saddened by the decision but it was necessary in order to keep international initiatives afloat.
“Without decisive action, WE Charity’s ongoing costs to operate in Canada would exceed revenue and consume savings that are essential to establish the endowment fund,” reads the statement.
“We calculate that this action preserves as many humanitarian and educational programs as possible, for as long as possible. Putting children first means prioritizing them above the charity.”
According to CTV News, the sell-off is intended to pay for global projects such as WE Charity’s hospital, college and agricultural learning centre. The move will also help fund WE Villages projects in Latin America, Asia and Africa.
Last month, the charity announced that it was scaling back its operations, cutting dozens of jobs in Canada and the United Kingdom, and selling some of its real estate in Toronto.
WE Charity attributed the layoffs to the COVID-19 pandemic and other “recent events,” causing it to shift programming and reduce staff.
The move comes amid the controversy surrounding the Liberal government’s decision to pay WE Charity up to $43.5 million to administer a now-cancelled Canada Student Service Grant.
The scandal triggered investigations by the federal ethics watchdog into potential breaches of conflict of interest rules by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and former Finance Minister Bill Morneau, who both have close family ties to the charity.
Trudeau’s mother, Margaret Trudeau, spoke at approximately 28 WE Charity events and was paid $250,000 in speaking honorariums between 2016 and 2020. Trudeau’s brother and wife were also paid for participating in past WE Charity events.
The organization also paid, in part, for two trips that members of Morneau’s family took in 2017, and Morneau himself took part in one of those trips.
Morneau apologized for the conflict and said it was his full intention to cover the full cost of the trips. However, it wasn’t until July that he repaid the $41,000 the charity had initially covered.
On Aug. 17, Morneau resigned as finance minister and a member of parliament, and said someone else should guide the country through its economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. Morneau never directly attributed his resignation to the WE Charity scandal.
Both Trudeau and Morneau have apologized for not removing themselves from the discussions about the grant. Trudeau said he was not in an actual conflict of interest but that he was instead subject to a perception of conflict.
Over the past 25 years since its inception, WE Charity grew to be active in 7,000 Canadian schools and more than one million Canadian students attended WE Day celebrations.
With files from CTVNews.ca's Graham Slaughter