PM Says He “Made a Mistake” in WE Charity Student Grant Contract as the Charity Tries to Set the Record Straight

Earlier on Monday morning during the press conference from Rideau Cottage, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau apologized to Canadians saying he “made a mistake” in not removing himself from cabinet conversations about the student grant program to be run by WE Charity. 

“I made a mistake in not recusing myself immediately from the discussions, given our family’s history, and I’m sincerely sorry about not having done that,” said the Prime Minister.

He further added that he apologizes for how the implementation of the student volunteer program went and expressed regrets that it resulted in students looking to help their communities thus summer being left confused and in limbo. 

The student volunteer program was first announced a few weeks ago which offered students up to $5,000, depending on their time commitment, to volunteer and help communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

At the time, the federal government decided that We Charity would deliver the $900-million COVID-19 student grant program.

Notably, We Charity was founded by Marc and Craig Kielburger, who are known for starting the “Me to We” movement back in 2008. 

However, the student grant program has come to a halt as the Ethics Commissioner is currently probing a potential conflict of interest in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s decision to grant the organization the contract to administer the program. 

It was said that the Prime Minister and his family had close personal ties with WE Charity, which were later confirmed by the charity organization. 

Backing away from the student volunteering program, WE Charity confirmed the Prime Minister’s wife, mother, and brother have received payments around $300,000 for speaking at WE events. 

Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, the Prime Minister’s wife, is an ambassador with the organization and currently hosts a mental health podcast under the WE Charity name. 

It was reported that she has received a “one-time speaking honorarium” of $1,400 for participating at a youth event in 2012, years before Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would become the leader of the Liberal Party.

The controversy deepened as Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s office confirmed his daughters are also involved with WE Charity, yet the Finance Minister did not excuse himself from the decision-making table. 

The Conservatives have since written to the RCMP suggesting they investigate the matter as two House of Commons studies are conducted taking a look at various aspects of the controversy.

“Revelations that Justin Trudeau’s family was paid to speak at events for an organization, which later received a $900 million sole-source contract, are deeply disturbing,” said Conservative MP and ethics critic Michael Barrett in a statement about the push for a third committee study. 

“This new information has raised concerns about the way this Liberal government operates and whether the appropriate processes are in place to avoid conflicts of interest,” said the Conservative MP.

We, Charity, to “Set the Record Straight” in Full Page Ads and Announcements

It appears that WE Charity, which has since backed away from the student volunteer grant program, is attempting to appeal to Canadians by “setting the record straight” through full-page ads and press releases.

On Monday morning, full-page ads from WE Charity could be found in the “Globe and Mail” and the “Toronto Star”, in addition to their website, explaining the situation surrounding the controversy between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s history with the charity organization. 

Readers were told that WE Charity agreed to take the $900-million student volunteer program because “[WE Charity] has 25 years of experience building youth service programs that are in 7,000 Canadian schools engaging students to support 3,000+ charities and causes”. 

“The public service has openly stated that it was their recommendation for the WE Charity to receive the contract for this program,” the ad reads. 

“Over the years we have received grants from and worked with federal and provincial governments led by a diversity of political parties for our youth and school programs.”

According to the charity, the contract for the program would reimburse the expenses needed to deliver the Canada Student Services Grant.

The charity clarified that the contract did not provide the charity with room for profits and all funding and expenses would be subjected to government audits. 

“The funds were used for the program or returned to the government,” the ad continued. “All was subject to government audit.”

The charity claimed in its statement that it did not accept any reimbursement for the work it had done thus far to establish the program before pulling out, nor did it profit from the contract “in any way.”

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