Politics

Kielburger brothers now say they'll testify at parliamentary committee after ducking invitation

WE Charity founders Craig and Marc Kielburger now say they will testify before the House of Commons ethics committee after previously refusing to answer questions from what they described as a "partisan" committee.

Kielburgers' initial snub to committee 'a direct challenge to the powers of Parliament,' says MP Angus

In an interview with The Fifth Estate's Mark Kelley, Craig and Marc Kielburger say WE Charity's reputation was used as a "political football" by members of Parliament trying to "score political points." (Harvey Cashore/CBC)

WE Charity founders Craig and Marc Kielburger now say they will testify before the House of Commons ethics committee after previously refusing to answer questions from what they described as a "partisan" committee.

Guy Giorno, a lawyer advising WE Charity, told CBC News Network's Power & Politics today that both men will appear before the committee with legal counsel and will not answer questions that could form a part of a RCMP or Canada Revenue Agency investigation.

The move came after the committee unanimously passed a motion earlier today to compel the men behind WE Charity to appear before MPs to explain their role in the botched summer student grants program and answer questions about allegations of donor fraud.

The brothers previously said they would not testify before a "partisan" committee hearing. The committee is probing allegations of malfeasance at the charity and its role in a multi-million dollar student program that was derailed by a political scandal over personal ties between the charity, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and former finance minister Bill Morneau.

"There's a fundamental unfairness to having allegations which are already before law enforcement authorities also considered in a duplicative process before members of Parliament," Giorno told Power & Politics host Vassy Kapelos.  

"The witnesses will attend with counsel, but will obviously not, as a matter of fundamental fairness, be expected to address things that are in the hands of the police and other authorities."

Watch: Guy Giorno: Kielburgers will appear before committee after ducking invitation:

Kielburgers will appear before committee after ducking invitation

6 months ago
5:24
Guy Giorno, a legal adviser to WE Charity, tells Vassy Kapelos on Power & Politics that Craig and Marc Kielburger will appear before the Commons ethics committee. 5:24

The Kielburgers' decision to reject the invitation to appear prompted the committee to vote in favour of issuing a summons. The motion was passed with support from all MPs on the committee.

Had the Kielburgers failed to show up by week's end, the committee could have referred the matter to the Commons to give MPs a chance to issue a legally binding order compelling them to appear. Ignoring such an order can lead to being found in contempt of Parliament; the Commons has the power to imprison people for such breaches.

"For individuals to openly dismiss the invitations and to preemptively say they won't respond to a summons is flouting the legitimacy and authority of Canada's Parliament," Conservative MP Michael Barrett said.

"The letter from their legal counsel was shocking, and it was highly inappropriate," he said of a letter the brothers released last Friday that suggested they would ignore all requests to appear.

'Wrong message'

Barrett said the two men have disappointed the legions of schoolchildren who participated in their fundraising events. "It's absolutely the wrong message to send," he said.

NDP MP Charlie Angus said refusing to obey by a summons before one has even been issued "is a direct challenge to the powers of Parliament."

"We cannot be obstructed in this work just because the central people in the drama don't want to be held accountable," Angus said.

Angus said the brothers must be forced to respond to allegations made by Reed Cowan, a former member of WE Charity's advisory board, who testified last month that the brothers duped donors by swapping out plaques placed on African schools to coax more money out of would-be contributors.

You can watch full episodes of Power & Politics on CBC GEM, the CBC's streaming service

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

John Paul Tasker

Parliamentary Bureau

J.P. Tasker is a senior writer in the CBC's parliamentary bureau in Ottawa. He can be reached at john.tasker@cbc.ca.

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