A high-profile Canadian charity with close ties to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his wife is excluding youth from Quebec, Trudeau's home province, from a nationwide contest to win tickets to an event featuring former U.S. first lady Michelle Obama.
Plan International Canada (PIC) is organizing the contest to give away 373 pairs of tickets to the event, focused on empowering girls, in Toronto on Nov. 28. Tickets range from $500 to $1,000 a person. The event, entitled "The Economics of Equality: Advancing Women and Girls to Change the World," is being organized in conjunction with the Economic Club of Canada.
In order to enter the contest, you have to be between 14 and 24 years old. However, you can't be a resident of Quebec.
"The contest is open to legal residents of Canada (excluding Quebec)," the Toronto-based group spells out in the rules and regulations for the contest, which closed Friday.
A second contest, the Ambassador Challenge, which includes travel, accommodation and a pair of tickets, contains an identical clause.
The French version of PIC's website makes no mention of the contest.
Sophie Grégoire Trudeau participates in numerous events for the charity including a roundtable last month on gender inequity and the barriers that girls face. Justin Trudeau has also taken part in events organized by the group, including allowing a young woman, Breanne Lavallee-Heckert, to follow him for a day in October as part of Plan International's #GirlsBelongHere initiative.
The relationship appears to work for both Trudeau's government and the charity — playing to Trudeau's goal of empowering women while increasing Plan International's profile.
However, the Prime Minister's Office said the Trudeaus had nothing to do with organizing the event or the contest. It referred all questions to Plan International Canada.
The charity receives millions of dollars in federal government funding, according to numbers posted on the Canada Revenue Agency's charities section. In its 2016 report, PIC listed $29 million in revenue from the federal government. In 2015, it was $30.6 million. The amount of federal money it received over the years has risen steadily since the $14.6 million it received in 2012 — the earliest year for which its charitable filings can be consulted online.
Under Quebec law, most contests must be registered with the provincial agency that oversees gaming and alcohol. However, Joyce Tremblay, spokeswoman for the Régie d'alcohol, des courses et des jeux, says it never received an application from Plan International Canada.
Tremblay said it approves around 9,000 each year and approval is usually simply "a question of days."
Explanation raises questions
In a statement, Plan International Canada said it has a policy of inclusion and had hoped to make the offer open to all youth in Canada between 14 and 24 years old.
"After consultation with a legal expert in this area, we were extremely disappointed to learn that Quebec's regulatory demands and requirements for contests in that province prevented our being able to include Quebec residents in the limited time frame we had to plan and execute the contest. As a result, our contest for tickets to hear Michelle Obama speak was not eligible to be open to residents of Quebec," the group said.
PIC said it will strive to include all Canadian youth, including Quebecers, in the future.
But at least one Quebec mother questions PIC's explanation.
"They had the time to put together a web page for that contest, they had the time to put together a regulation for that contest, they had the time to organize a major promotional campaign in the context of a conference that takes months to organize," said Claire Canet of Chandler, Que., in the province's Gaspé region.
Canet discovered the clause when she tried to enter her daughter Lucile Parry-Canet, 16, in the contest.
"It was written black on white that Quebec is excluded," said Canet, a former lawyer. "I though 'Oh my God, surely given the topic of the conference that cannot be right.'"
Canet says excluding Quebec youth is discrimination and at odds with the goal of the event. Quebec's 8.16 million residents make up 23.2 per cent of Canada's population.
Canet says Lucile cares about the issues Obama will be discussing and is disappointed that she can't even enter the contest.
"She's only 16 and at this age, you know, you want to know everything about what makes the world and she felt to have the possibility to hear Michelle Obama talk about such issues was just a brilliant opportunity for her to gain relevant knowledge. So she's disappointed," Canet said.
Elizabeth Thompson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org