Why should you be concerned about the WE Charity scandal?

Photo by Jason Hafso on Unsplash

A few months ago, Justin Trudeau announced that students who volunteer during the Covid-19 pandemic would be eligible to receive a student service grant of 1000$ to 5000$ depending on the hours of volunteer work. WE Charity, an international charity and educational partner, is administering this grant. To do so, a governmental contract of 900$ millions was given to this non-profit organization to manage the Canada Student Service Grand (CSSG). A few ethical dilemmas have come to light in recent weeks. Here’s why you should be concerned about the WE Charity scandal.

In the past four years, the Trudeau family received over 300 000$ from the organization to speak at WE Charity events, while speakers are usually not paid for appearances, showcasing preferential treatment.

Conservative MP Michael Barrett filed a complaint against Justin Trudeau alleging that he violated the conflict of interest Act when the Trudeau government gave WE Charity a sole-sourced contract without following through normal contracting process. This means that the Trudeau government did not follow a competitive process to select WE Charity as the organization in charge of the CSSG. Mario Dion, the ethics commissioner is now investigating the issue.

The main problem is that this is not the first time that Justin Trudeau was accused of not respecting the Conflict of Interest Act. Indeed, he was found guilty of breaking this act twice in his four years as acting PM. In 2017, Mary Dawson found that Justin Trudeau broke this law by going on vacations with his family on the Aga Khan’s private island. This trip was offered as a gift, breaking section 11 of the Act.In 2019, Mario Dion found that he was pressuring former attorney general, Jody Wilson-Raybould to intervene in the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin

It is important that in a context where representatives do break the conflict of interest Act, we hold them accountable, because it allows us to make sure that our public officers won’t have any conflict of interest when it comes to decision-making and other official duties that are done in the purpose of representing and servicing Canadians. This Act also prohibits preferential treatment “given to any person or organization based on the identity of the person or organization that represents the first-mentioned person or organization”. In this case, it is possible to infer preferential treatment with with Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau animating a WE Charity podcast and with the Trudeau family being paid to speak at WE Charity events while others are not.

This scandal concerns every Canadian because our system is based on the accountability of public servants to citizens. Our representatives are there to represent us as fairly as possible, with no personal conflicts of interest.

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