Ethics watchdog investigating Trudeau over choice of WE Charity to run $900M student grant program

The Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner has launched an investigation of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau over the government's decision to task the WE Charity — which has ties to Trudeau's family — with administering a $900 million summer student grant program.

Trudeau being investigated on allegations he made decisions that furthered his and others' interests

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives on stage at We Day on Parliament Hill. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion has launched an investigation of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau over the government's decision to task the WE Charity — which has ties to Trudeau's family — with administering a $900 million summer student grant program.

Trudeau and his government have been under fire since announcing the contract because of the charity's close association with the Trudeau family.

Trudeau and his mother, Margaret, have appeared at a number of WE Day events, while Trudeau's wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, hosts a podcast for the group called "WE Well-being."

WE Charity said in a statement to CBC News that members of the Trudeau family don't receive any appearance fees or honoraria when they appear at WE events. Grégoire Trudeau has been reimbursed for travel expenses related to her volunteer work with the organization.

Earlier today, the WE Charity and the federal government announced they were ending the partnership.

Dion initiated his investigation after Conservative MP Michael Barrett and NDP MP Charlie Angus separately wrote his office asking him to examine the prime minister's conduct in relation to the contract.

In a letter to Barrett, Dion said he will be investigating Trudeau under subsection 6(1) of the Act, which prohibits public office holders from making decisions that further their own private interests or the interests of another person.

Trudeau also is being investigated under sections 7 and 21 of the act, which deal with giving someone preferential treatment and failing to recuse from a conflict of interest.

The WE Charity was started by human rights advocates Marc and Craig Kielburger in 1995. Last month, Trudeau announced that it would administer the Canada Student Service Grant, which will provide eligible students with up to $5,000.

Charities push back

The grants are intended to help students cover the cost of post-secondary education in the fall. The amount of the grant depends on how much time a students spends doing volunteer work. 

Shortly after it was announced that We Charity would be running the program, the Liberal government came under fire from opposition parties and some people in the charitable sector. 

Watch: Federal government parts ways with WE charity on student grant plan:

Federal government parts ways with WE charity on student grant plan

3 years ago
Duration 2:05
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke with reporters after news emerged that the WE charity would no longer run Ottawa's $900M program.

Volunteer Canada, a group that promotes volunteerism, said it would refuse to work with WE Charity because it objected to how the program was being administered and to the idea of paying students for volunteer work.

Trudeau initially defended the partnership, saying WE was the only group with a nationwide network capable of operating a program on this scale for young people. Other charitable organizations have questioned that assertion.

While the We Charity was tasked with running the program, it was getting only $19.5 million to cover its costs — $5 million of which was supposed to be passed on to partner organizations such as Pathways to Education.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said that if Trudeau is confident that We Charity was the right choice, he should be willing to produce evidence to back up the decision.

"There's still no explanation as to why one charity with this level of involvement with the Trudeau family was the only one," Scheer told guest host Catherine Cullen on CBC News Network's Power & Politics. 

"Did they do an exhaustive search? What can they point to as justification for We being the only group that can do this? Did they do an analysis? We'd like to find out this information."

PMO spokesperson Chantal Gagnon told CBC that the office would "of course collaborate with the commissioner and answer any questions he may have."

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