Kielburger brothers say they won't testify before 'partisan' Commons committee

WE Charity co-founders Craig and Marc Kielburger are declining requests to testify before two House of Commons committees.

NDP MP Charlie Angus has called for an RCMP, CRA investigation into WE Charity's donor relations

Marc and Craig Kielburger speak to The Fifth Estate's Mark Kelley. (Harvey Cashore/CBC)

WE Charity co-founders Craig and Marc Kielburger are declining requests to testify before two House of Commons committees.

In a statement Wednesday, the charity noted that New Democrat MP Charlie Angus has requested that the RCMP and the Canada Revenue Agency investigate WE's operations.

The charity said it would be unfair to subject it to a "partisan" committee investigation at the same time.

"While WE Charity would welcome and co-operate with any potential investigation conducted by these agencies (RCMP and CRA), 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 charity said.

Both the Commons ethics committee and the procedure and House affairs committee have invited the Kielburger brothers to testify as part of their ongoing scrutiny of a federal agreement to have WE manage a now-cancelled student services grant program, despite the organization's close ties to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his family.

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.

NDP MP calls for investigations

Angus requested the RCMP and CRA investigations last week 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 to the Commons ethics committee, which invited the Kielburger brothers to testify on Monday. The brothers testified for four hours before the Commons finance committee last summer, after the controversy over the student grant program erupted.

Angus said Wednesday that he will confer with his fellow committee members about summoning the Kielburgers to testify.

Conservative ethics critic Michael Barrett also tweeted today that his party will pursue a summons "in the interest of accountability to Canadians."

"I'm very, very perplexed that they're taking this strategy," Angus said in an interview.

'Devastating' testimony

"What we heard last Friday (from Cowan) was devastating testimony and I would think they would want to reassure both taxpayers and their donors by answering these questions. They need to answer these questions. They can't hide."

Angus noted that the committee already has had to summon two other executives in the WE organization to compel them to testify. A summons from a Commons committee has legal force.

In its statement Wednesday, WE Charity notes that five members of the organization have testified before various "highly partisan" committees over the past nine months and will decline further invitations to do so again. It says it will continue to co-operate with the ethics commissioner's investigation.

The charity also says its board of directors is setting up a standing committee on donor transparency to look into "any specific concerns that may be raised by any past, present or future donor." Its first priority will be to look into Cowan's allegations, the charity says.

When donors contribute to such projects as building a school, the charity says, "those funds are often pooled to help villages, as is common with other major international development organizations."

It says it has sought to be clear about that approach through its websites and other materials and adds that "every penny donated to WE Charity was used to help children."

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