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Ethics Committee Summons Kielburgers To Testify After Brothers Reject Invite

The brothers have already testified for four hours at the Commons finance committee last summer, after controversy over the student-grant program erupted.

OTTAWA — Members of the House of Commons ethics committee have unanimously voted to summon WE Charity co-founders Craig and Marc Kielburger to testify.

Should the brothers not appear by this Friday to testify for at least three hours, the ethics committee has declared, they may face potential censure by the whole of the House of Commons.

The brothers had been scheduled to appear before the committee on Monday. It was originally meant to be the final day of testimony in the committee’s probe of the charity’s now-cancelled deal with the federal government to manage a student services grant.

But the charity noted in a statement last week that New Democrat MP Charlie Angus has requested that the RCMP and the Canada Revenue Agency investigate WE’s operations.

“While WE Charity would welcome and co-operate with any potential investigation conducted by these agencies, no organization should be subject to both an investigation of the same matters by a partisan parliamentary committee which wishes to carry out its own substitute investigation,” the statement said.

The charity said it would therefore decline the requests to testify.

Monday’s motion was originally put forward by the Conservatives, and amended by the NDP to set a deadline of Friday.

“This is a direct challenge to the powers of Parliament to investigate spending and issues of insider access that are well within the purview of our committee,” Angus said of the brothers’ refusal to testify.

“And it is well within the constitutional privileges that we have as democratically elected members representing the people of Canada.”

Marc Kielburger, left, and Craig Kielburger, right, are pictured on CPAC as they appear as witnesses via videoconference during a House of Commons finance committee in Ottawa on July 28, 2020.
Marc Kielburger, left, and Craig Kielburger, right, are pictured on CPAC as they appear as witnesses via videoconference during a House of Commons finance committee in Ottawa on July 28, 2020.

Angus requested the RCMP and CRA investigations after a former donor, U.S. television journalist Reed Cowan, alleged that the plaque on a school he had funded in Kenya had been replaced with a plaque in the name of another donor.

WE said the incident was an unfortunate mistake; Angus called it proof of a “pattern of duplicitous relations with donors.”

Cowan made the allegations during testimony in February to the Commons ethics committee, which in turn had invited the Kielburger brothers to testify on Monday.

The brothers have already testified for four hours at the Commons finance committee last summer, after controversy over the student-grant program erupted.

That controversy dates back to the height of the Liberal government’s response to the COVID-19 crisis when financial aid packages and programs were being spooled up swiftly to help those suddenly forced out of work.

A decision by the Liberals to award WE a contract for one such program, despite the organization’s close ties to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his family, set off howls of protest and allegations of ethical violations.

Ethics commissioner Mario Dion is investigating the involvement of Trudeau and former finance minister Bill Morneau, who also has family ties to WE, in awarding the $43.5-million contract.

Both have apologized for not recusing themselves from the decision.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 8, 2021.

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