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Marc Kielburger, screen left, and Craig Kielburger, screen right, appear as witnesses via videoconference during a House of Commons finance committee in the Wellington Building in Ottawa on July 28, 2020.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Craig and Marc Kielburger accused the federal Liberals on Monday of letting WE Charity take the fall for the government’s botched student service program, noting that they were not responsible for managing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s conflicts of interest.

The pair told the House of Commons ethics committee they were “taking a stand,” and blamed politics for their charity’s downfall. Their comments come amid mounting questions about the charity’s operations and allegations that the group misled donors about what their money was going toward.

WE was awarded a contract to administer the $543.5-million Canada Student Service Grant last summer. The program was scrapped amid conflict of interest allegations against Mr. Trudeau, whose family members worked with WE. The Prime Minister and former finance minister Bill Morneau are under investigation by the federal ethics commissioner over connections to the charity.

“This is a political scandal for the government, not WE Charity,” Marc Kielburger told the committee in an opening statement. “The government hid behind a children’s charity by letting it take the fall for their political decisions, and the opposition allowed them.” He appeared virtually alongside his brother, Craig, and their lawyer, William McDowell.

In September, the charity announced its Canadian operations would close and the Kielburgers would leave the organization. The pair told the committee they’ve been subjected to death threats and politically motivated probes, and they tried to play down questions about how the charity used donor funds.

“WE Charity: It wasn’t perfect, but Canadian youth and Canadian young people were better off because of it,” Marc said.

Liberal MP Francesco Sorbara suggested the brothers weren’t owning their accountability.

“You want to throw blame on everyone else and not take responsibility,” Mr. Sorbara said.

The pair appeared at committee after four legal summonses and negotiations between their legal team and the committee over the conditions under which they would agree to be questioned.

More than six months after WE’s involvement in the program was cancelled, interest in the charity’s operations has not abated.

In February, former WE adviser and donor Reed Cowan told the ethics committee the group was “duplicitous” in its relationships with donors and has failed to provide a proper accounting of its use of donor funds in Kenya. Mr. Cowan said the charity promised sponsorship of the same Kenyan school to different groups without their knowledge.

Mr. Cowan said he raised money for WE Charity schools in honour of his four-year-old son, Wesley, who died in an accident in 2006. A plaque was installed to mark the donation, but was twice removed.

New Democrat MP Charlie Angus told the committee at the time that media reports said the charity promised the same school or water project to multiple donors, each of whom thought they were funding the entire project.

Several times during Monday’s hearing, the Kielburger brothers apologized to Mr. Cowan, but said switching plaques was not common practice, and they knew of only one other instance where it happened.

“We’re not perfect. We absolutely make errors like Mr. Cowan’s plaque and we try to own those errors,” Craig said. He added that WE was looking into the case, and that “theoretically” a member of the Kenyan team could have made an error.

Liberal MP Nate Erskine-Smith said he was concerned by the switching of the plaques and the possibility that the charity was “soliciting different funding for that same project.” Craig said the charity stopped using plaques, and different donors contribute to the capital and operating costs of any project.

The brothers said members of Parliament have launched reviews or called for probes into the matter through nine different House of Commons committees, officers of Parliament, agencies and the police.

“The two of us have not been contacted by the RCMP,” Craig said in response to questioning from Conservative MPs, but he said he couldn’t comment on whether other people in his organization have been in touch with the Mounties. “We’re supposed to leave this to the RCMP to actually give comment.”

In a statement to The Globe and Mail, the RCMP said it continues to examine this matter carefully. After the committee appearance, the charity said in a statement to The Globe that it told the RCMP last summer it was willing to co-operate in any possible investigation.

Craig said the controversy over the student program, inflammatory comments by politicians and the decision of some news outlets to publish his home address led to death threats against him, his family and charity staff.

In one case, he said, police were called after someone showed up at his house to intimidate his wife.

“My youngest isn’t even one year old and he’s already received death threats,” he said.

With reports from Geoffrey York

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