Co-founders Craig (left) and Marc Kielburger introduce Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his wife Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau as they appear at the WE Day celebrations in Ottawa, Tuesday Nov. 10, 2015. Canada's ethics commissioner says he is launching investigation over Trudeau's decision to award WE Charity the right to administer a $900-million federal student grant program. (Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Ethics Commissioner launches investigation into Trudeau over WE Charity deal

Canada’s Ethics Commissioner says he is launching an investigation into a possible breach of federal conflict of interest laws by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau following the government’s decision to award the WE Charity the contract to administer a $900-million summer student grant program.

Trudeau and his minority Liberal government have been under fire since the charity founded by brothers Craig and Marc Kielburger was announced as the manager of the the Canada Student Service Grant (CSSG) program last week, because of Trudeau’s close relationship with the group. 

Trudeau and his mother, Margaret, have appeared at a number of WE Day events, while Trudeau’s wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, hosts a podcast for the group called “WE Well-being.”

Charity experts have also questioned whether WE is equipped for the fine-grained management of such a big government-funded program.

Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion initiated his investigation after Conservative MP Michael Barrett and NDP MP Charlie Angus separately wrote his office asking him to examine the prime minister’s conduct in relation to the contract.

In a letter to Barrett, Dion said he will be investigating Trudeau under subsection 6(1) of the Act, which prohibits public office holders from making decisions that further their own private interests or the interests of another person.

Trudeau also is being investigated under sections 7 and 21 of the act, which deal with giving someone preferential treatment and failing to recuse from a conflict of interest.

On Friday morning, the WE Charity and the federal government announced they were ending the partnership. Instead, public servants will administer the pandemic-related grants, Trudeau said.

Speaking to reporters in Gatineau, Quebec, Trudeau said the decision to cut ties was “WE’s decision, which we support.”

“Obviously this situation unfolded in a way that is truly unfortunate because one of the things that ends up happening with this is that young people won’t maybe have the same kind of access to programs that they would have,” Trudeau said.

The volunteer program is to pay up to $5,000 for schooling costs for participants who volunteer the maximum 500 hours, and is aimed at students who can’t find work this summer because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Youth Minister Bardish Chagger said in a statement that volunteers who have already signed up shouldn’t be adversely affected, and WE Charity will pay back money it’s already received from the federal government.

The Liberals had set aside about $19 million for the organization to administer the program, but the final amount was dependent on how many young people joined it.

With files from Peter Zimonjic and John Paul Tasker of CBC News and The Canadian Press

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