Canada’s elections watchdog has been making inquiries about whether WE Charity carried out activities that benefited the Liberal Party in violation of electoral laws, according to a researcher who said a senior investigator from the office recently interviewed her.
Vivian Krause, an independent researcher and blogger who testified about WE Charity at the House of Commons finance committee last July, told The Globe and Mail she was contacted in February by Louise Panneton, a senior investigator with the Office of the Commissioner of Canada Elections.
Ms. Krause raised concerns at the hearings about get-out-the vote activities that WE Charity has conducted, and she alleged the charity promoted Justin Trudeau, including before the 2015 and 2019 elections. She said Ms. Panneton called her on Feb. 22 to discuss her testimony further.
“It was the issue of whether WE Charity should have registered as a third party. They never registered in any of the recent elections and should they have done [so]. That was sort of the big question,” Ms. Krause said.
Organizations that want to be active to support a particular party or candidate must register as a third party with Elections Canada.
The Commissioner of Canada Elections is responsible for ensuring compliance with Canadian election law. The Canada Elections Act prohibits incorporated entities from making contributions – whether monetary or in-kind – to political parties during campaigns.
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A spokesperson for Elections Commissioner Yves Côté would not confirm whether an investigation is officially under way into WE Charity or the Liberal Party.
“We have pretty strict confidentiality provisions that prevent us from talking about any of the work that may be carried out by the office,” Michelle Laliberte said. “If any action is taken by the commission, it is always made public.”
The finance committee has been investigating whether connections between WE Charity and the Trudeau family led the government to approve a contract for the charity to administer a planned $900-million pandemic aid program called the Canada Student Service Grant.
Conservative ethics critic Michael Barrett said on Thursday that it appears the elections commissioner is looking into concerns his party raised last August. Conservative MPs wrote to Mr. Côté at the time asking him about matters that came up during the Finance committee hearings last summer.
“I am pleased to hear that the Commissioner of Canada elections is following up,” Mr. Barrett said. “It’s good they are making inquiries about it.”
In their letter to Mr. Côté, the Conservatives alleged that a video produced in 2017 by the WE organization promoted Mr. Trudeau. They also mentioned a CBC report in July, 2020, that said some WE employees were required to attend political functions hosted by former Liberal finance minister Bill Morneau.
Ms. Krause testified to the committee that a person she did not identify told her WE Charity shared youth survey data with the Liberals before the 2015 election.
Ms. Krause said she told the investigator she had no concrete evidence to support the allegation. Ms. Krause said Ms. Panneton indicated she had spoken to other people about WE and its connections to the Liberal Party.
WE Charity has consistently said it has broken no laws and did nothing improper.
In an e-mail on Thursday, WE Charity said it has not been contacted by anyone from the Commissioner of Canada Elections. It also said it has never shared survey data with any political party.
WE, which was founded by Craig and Marc Kielburger, received a contract of $543.5-million to administer the student service grant program, which was cancelled amid conflict of interest allegations against Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Morneau, whose families were involved with the charity and received compensation in the form of travel and expenses.
The federal ethics commissioner is investigating Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Morneau over connections to the charity. Both apologized last summer for not recusing themselves from the decision on the contract.
Mr. Trudeau’s mother and brother were paid speaking fees and travel reimbursements to appear at WE events. Mr. Morneau and his family accepted trips, for which they were later repaid, to visit WE projects in Kenya and Ecuador, and Mr. Morneau’s daughter worked for the charity.
In 2017, Craig Kielburger was quoted as saying Mr. Trudeau was one of his favourite leaders, lauding the Liberal politician for hosting WE Days, an annual series of stadium-sized youth empowerment events.
“From the get go, when Justin was first elected, his first event was WE Days,” NDP MP Charlie Angus said on Thursday in an interview. “WE Days began with Trudeau. They built that model as Trudeau as the young rock star on WE Days. They are deeply implicated with him.”
In March, the Kielburger brothers told the finance committee that WE Charity took the fall for the government’s botched student service program, saying they were not responsible for Mr. Trudeau’s conflicts of interest.
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