Some of the documents requested in Parliament’s probe of the WE Charity controversy were purged as part of the “normal course of business” well before the issue was making headlines, according to the speaking agency that represents members of the Trudeau family.
In a statement on Tuesday, Speakers' Spotlight said hard copies of documents for speaking engagements that happened more than seven years ago were deleted according to regular procedures. But it said it has some digital copies of documents, and “records of all the speaking engagements dating back to 2008″ that it is willing to provide to the House of Commons ethics committee for its investigation if it renews its request.
The agency’s president, Martin Perelmuter, said in a follow-up interview that he could not discuss the differences between the documents that were kept and those that were deleted, but none were deleted this year either before or after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau prorogued Parliament, ending the committee’s work.
“We did not delete or destroy any documents pertaining to this after prorogation [or] before prorogation. We haven’t destroyed any documents at any point this year," he said.
Opposition MPs are attempting to get more information about the ties between the Trudeau family and the WE Charity. Opposition parties say the documents are needed to verify statements from WE Charity and the Prime Minister’s Office about payments to members of the Trudeau family for their participation in events because both entities have previously provided incorrect information.
Speakers' Spotlight has represented Mr. Trudeau and his wife in the past, and still represents his mother and brother. On July 22, the ethics committee passed a motion requesting records of their speaking engagements dating back to Mr. Trudeau’s election as an MP in 2008. The documents were to be viewed only by the committee in camera.
The agency was given a week to produce the documents, but was given an extension until Aug. 19. However, the day before the records were due, Mr. Trudeau prorogued Parliament – voiding the document request.
Since Parliament’s return in September, the opposition MPs on the ethics committee have tried to revive a modified version of that request and a broader study of the WE controversy and other ethical issues, but the Liberals have filibustered their attempts.
Speakers' Spotlight went public with its comments on Tuesday after information it says was inaccurate was provided at the ethics committee meeting on Monday. Chair David Sweet, a Conservative MP, said the agency told the committee’s clerk it only has documents dating back seven years and had “destroyed everything” from before the seven years for keeping documents mandated by the Canada Revenue Agency.
His comments prompted Conservative MP Michael Barrett to post a video on Twitter with his response in committee and a comment that said: “legally ordered WE documents have been destroyed." The tweet had more than 200,000 video views by Tuesday evening.
In its statement, Speakers' Spotlight called the comments “entirely false.”
It said the documents were “purged in the normal course of business” in accordance with privacy and tax laws. But Mr. Perelmuter said some digital documents dating back further than seven years were found.
“Anything that we were able to find we would provide to the committee as long as it’s a legal request in an order," he said.
In a statement, the Prime Minister’s Office said neither Mr. Trudeau, his family members or their representatives asked the agency to delete the documents.
Mr. Perelmuter said the company did not tell the committee in the summer that some documents that were requested had been purged. The development this week came as a surprise to NDP MP Charlie Angus, who said it raises more questions about why the Liberals are still blocking the request.
Pointing out that most of the available documents will cover a time when Mr. Trudeau was leader of the Liberal Party and therefore not doing publicly paid speaking events, he asked: “What is it that they are still really freaked out about?
“The Liberals are still filibustering, so something’s up,” Mr. Angus said.
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