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Craig Kielburger, left, and his brother Marc speak at a WE Day event at the Air Canada Centre, in Toronto, on Sept. 28, 2017.Fred Lum/the Globe and Mail

Royal Bank of Canada has decided to cut all its ties to WE Charity less than a week after announcing a review of its partnerships with the beleaguered organization.

RBC has been one of WE’s main sponsors for more than a decade. Last Thursday, the bank said it was reconsidering its relationship in light of the controversy surrounding WE. On Tuesday, it went further.

“After reviewing our partnership, RBC and WE Charity have reached a mutual agreement to end all sponsorship and donation programming,” said Gillian McArdle, a spokeswoman for the bank. “Enabling youth remains a key priority for RBC in our commitment to helping communities prosper. We continue to focus on opportunities that help youth develop skills, gain work experience and more easily access mental well-being services through our broad programming and RBC-created resources.”

WE has been mired in controversy over a federal government contract that the charity was awarded to administer the $912-million Canada Student Service Grant (CSSG). WE co-founders Craig and Marc Kielburger testified Tuesday before the House of Commons finance committee, which is looking into the matter. Craig Kielburger told MPs that the charity was not put in charge of the now-cancelled program because of any relationship with Liberal politicians.

How WE got here: A timeline of the charity, the contract and the controversy

WE Charity didn’t get student-grant contract because of Liberal ties, Kielburgers tell MPs

RBC is one of several companies that have severed ties to the organization. The bank has been deeply involved with WE since 2009. In 2012, it became a national co-title sponsor for WE Day events across Canada, and chief executive David McKay has been among the co-chairs of WE Day in Toronto. The bank has also been a partner in a WE scholarship program and an awards initiative and helped build the WE Incubation Hub in Toronto. Carlos Pinto, RBC’s former global head of corporate development, is also on the board of WE Charity UK.

The charity’s financial statements show that RBC holds a $1.4-million lease with WE that is secured by “furniture and fixtures.”

Several other major sponsors have also begun to disassociate from WE.

Telus Corp. said last Thursday that it was ending its sponsorship agreement with the charity, which was supposed to expire in 2022. The company had several partnerships with WE and contributed about $20-million to the charity over the years.

KPMG has also suspended its relationships with WE in Canada and Britain, as has Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd., which said last Friday that it had halted all donations. Loblaw Cos. Ltd., which has also been a significant WE sponsor, said it had no plans to work with the organization again.

In a statement last Friday, WE said that after it announced plans to reorganize and pause WE Day events, it “reached out to our Canadian corporate partners of WE Schools and WE Day to proactively pause our related partnerships.” The charity added: “Our corporate partners’ 25-year commitment helping youth serve Canada should be celebrated, rather than expose them to undue criticism.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the CSSG program on April 22 and the government disclosed in June that WE would run it. The contract was cancelled on July 3 after conflict-of-interest accusations involving Mr. Trudeau and members of his family.

Since then, it has been revealed that Finance Minister Bill Morneau and members of his family have been involved with the charity for years – and that neither he nor Mr. Trudeau recused themselves from the cabinet decision to award WE the contract. Both the Prime Minister and Mr. Morneau have apologized for not doing so.

The Globe and Mail has a sponsorship agreement with WE Charity. It expires on Aug. 31 and will not be renewed.


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