Here’s what the WE scandal with Justin Trudeau is all about

Story by CBC Kids News • 2020-07-15 13:14

WE pulls out of federal contract after Trudeau family's financial ties revealed

Hearing some chatter about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and WE Charity lately?

There’s a reason for that.

Trudeau is entangled in a controversy around the charity and the new Canada Student Service Grant program that aims to help students earn money over the summer.

Here’s a bit about how it happened — and the backlash that followed.

The background

The difference between WE Day, WE Charity and Me to WE --  WE Day: An annual series of stadium-sized youth empowerment events organized by WE Charity. --  WE Charity: Formerly known as Free the Children, WE Charity combines research and practical aid to help youth living in poor countries. -- ME to WE: For-profit company that sells learning experiences and products (think: cute necklaces and bracelets) and gives half of all profits to WE Charity.

Let's rewind to late June, when Trudeau announced that WE would be the only charity allowed to provide post-secondary students and recent graduates with grants (a.k.a. money) in exchange for hours spent volunteering because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Trudeau’s government also gave the charity a large sum of money ($19.5 million) to run the $900-million program.

WE Charity co-founders Craig and Marc Kielburger introduce Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his wife Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau in 2015 as they appear at WE Day celebrations.

WE Charity co-founders Craig, left, and Marc Kielburger introduce Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his wife Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau in 2015 as they appear at WE Day celebrations. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

The controversy

Here’s the issue: Trudeau’s family has financial ties to WE Charity, which means he had a conflict of interest (a.k.a. when someone can personally benefit from a decision they make).

Trudeau's mother, Margaret, has been paid $250,000 and his brother Alexandre was paid $32,000 to appear at WE Charity events.

Sophie Gregoire Trudeau on stage during WE Day in March.

Sophie Gregoire Trudeau on stage during WE Day UK 2020 on March 4 in London. (Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images)

The reaction

Many people weren’t happy.

#WeHaveAProblem started trending as Canadians, charities and leaders of opposition parties took to social media and called out the deal.

At first, Trudeau defended his decision, saying nothing was wrong with the partnership.

WE Charity co-founders Craig and Marc Kielburger onstage at WE Day.

WE Charity was previously known as Free the Children. (Image credit: Geoff Robins/The Canadian Press)

But the federal Conservatives weren't so sure and called for an investigation into the whole situation. 

Fast forward to July 3, when WE pulled itself from the partnership.

The apology

Earlier this week, Trudeau apologized, saying he never should have been involved in the decision to select WE to run the program.

“When it came to this organization and this program, the involvement that I had in the past, and that my family has, should have had me remove myself from these discussions and I'm sorry that I didn't,” Trudeau told reporters.

Justin Trudeau at a podium, apologizing publicy.

Trudeau said he never should have been involved in the decision, given his family’s personal ties with WE. (Image credit: Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

The prime minister said he was particularly sorry that it now means help will be delayed for young people who are facing a difficult time right now and need support in covering the cost of school next fall.

Not everyone seemed content with his apology, including NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, who took to Twitter to call out the prime minister on what he sees as a pattern of bad behaviour.

A tweet from Jagmeet Singh: Mr Trudeau, apologizing isn't enough when the apology is only because you got caught. Aga Khan trip - caught. Helping friends at SNC-Lavalin - caught. WE Charity - caught. Saying sorry in front of cameras means nothing when you keep doing the same thing behind closed doors.

What now?

Canada’s ethics commissioner in now investigating Trudeau’s involvement in the scandal. That means he could face consequences if the commissioner determines that what he did wasn’t allowed.

The student grant program will now be administered by the federal government.

With files from CBC News and The Canadian Press
TOP IMAGE CREDIT: (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

CLARIFICATION: CBC Kids News updated this article on July 20, 2020, to include the exact amount the Trudeaus were paid to speak at WE Charity events.

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