WE Charity is raising a roadblock to their co-founders testifying before a parliamentary committee looking into last summer’s controversial proposed federal student volunteer program.
On Thursday, the charity said the standing committee on access to information, privacy and ethics has not met their request to allow standing for a lawyer for Craig and Marc Kielburger as he accompanies the brothers during an expected Monday appearance.
The committee is looking into the federal plan to have WE manage a $900-million student-services program. The arrangement was cancelled amid conflict-of-interest allegations centred on the close ties Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his family had to the organization.
In a rare move, the committee has issued a summons for the brothers to testify.
WE says the most recent correspondence of the committee chair suggests a “limited” ability for lawyer William McDowell to engage in the proceedings.
“To be clear, this was not the original request to the committee – it was rather to ensure WE Charity counsel would be granted standing at the committee. We continue to await clarification from the committee if this reasonable request to ensure WE Charity’s lawyer will be granted standing will be met,” WE said in an e-mailed statement to The Globe and Mail.
Despite the apparent impasse, Guy Giorno, a lawyer for WE, said he expected a resolution by next week’s committee hearing.
“The expectation is that a reasonable way forward will be seen that allows for everything to happen on Monday the way it should,” Giorno, a former chief of staff to former prime minister Stephen Harper now working as a lawyer, said in an interview.
The charity’s stand came after members of the committee said Thursday they anticipated Monday’s testimony by the Kielburgers would proceed.
“I expect them to show up,” Conservative MP Chris Warkentin, chair of the ethics committee, said in an interview. “The committee has gone to great lengths to extend additional courtesies to these individuals.”
In a letter to the Kielburgers’ lawyer dated March 9, Mr. Warkentin wrote that the committee had agreed to allow Mr. McDowell to attend the meeting.
“However, while witnesses appearing before a committee may be assisted by counsel at the discretion of the committee, your role will be restricted to an advisory one and you will not be permitted to ask questions or reply on the witnesses’ behalf unless permitted to do so by the committee.”
Mr. Warkentin said the committee believes there are still “unanswered questions” about the federal plan to seek WE’s help with the student-services program.
Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion is looking into the involvement of Mr. Trudeau and former finance minister Bill Morneau, who also has family ties to WE, in awarding the $43.5-million contract to the charity.
On Thursday, New Democrat committee member Charlie Angus said that documents secured since a previous appearance by the Kielburgers before the finance committee raises new questions.
“We need to get a better sense of actually how these guys operate and why questions were not asked at the civil-service level in the senior departments in awarding these contracts,” he said.
Mr. Angus declined to detail the specific questions he will ask as a member of the committee, but added that a charity should be transparent and accountable.
“We should not be having to deal with legal summons. We should not have demands from their lawyer as to whether or not they will comply with the summons. A legal summons has been issued – Parliament expects them to show up,” he said.
WE has also taken issue with calls by Mr. Angus for the RCMP and the Canada Revenue Agency to investigate the charity’s financial dealings, accusing him of playing politics.
Mr. Angus dismissed the complaints as an attempted distraction from the issues at hand. “I would like to see the Kielburger brothers stop with the theatrics,” he said.
Also on Thursday, Conservative members of the standing committee on procedure and House affairs released a statement accusing the Liberals of a filibuster aimed at preventing a vote on whether Mr. Trudeau and the Kielburger brothers should be called to testify on the “real reasons” behind the prorogation of Parliament last year.
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