National Post

Kielburger­s demand conditions before testifying

- CHRISTOPHE­R NARDI

An appearance by Marc and Craig Kielburger before the federal ethics committee is still up in the air after the WE Charity co-founders issued a list of conditions before testifying. Earlier Wednesday, in a letter sent to WE lawyers, ethics committee chair and Conservati­ve MP Chris Warkentin said members would agree to grill the Kielburger­s on Monday, March 15, the date requested by the brothers’ counsel in a letter sent earlier this week. “Monday is WE day at the Ethics committee,” Conservati­ve MP Michael Barrett wrote on Twitter alongside a picture of Warkentin’s letter.

But late Wednesday, lawyers for the Toronto-based organizati­on said the brothers’ attendance was still conditiona­l on their counsel being allowed to be present physically during the hearing, issue an opening statement, as well as intervene and object to certain questions.

Those would probably relate to issues that are potentiall­y under RCMP, Canada Revenue Agency or U.S. Internal Revenue Service investigat­ion as requested by various former donors and NDP MP Charlie Angus.

“The decision of Mr. Angus MP to refer various matters concerning our clients to the RCMP and CRA does indeed amount to a ‘substantia­l obstacle’ to their appearance before the Committee,” WE lawyer William Mcdowell wrote in a letter to the committee and provided by the organizati­on.

“There is extraordin­ary prejudice to all of our clients, including to WE Charity itself, should the Kielburger­s appear without the protection­s” they requested, Mcdowell wrote.

In his Wednesday letter, the ethics committee chair told Mcdowell that he would accept that counsel accompany the Kielburger­s, but that person would not be allowed to respond on their behalf unless the committee allowed it.

Warkentin also warned against trying to prevent MPS from asking certain questions to the witnesses, regardless of if there were any criminal investigat­ions or tax audits underway.

“The existence of a possible enquiry by an investigat­ive body … does not impede the Committee’s work nor does it present any obstacles to the Kielburger­s appearing before the Committee. Parliament­ary privilege ensures that anything said in Parliament cannot be used in any other proceeding,” Warkentin wrote.

“It is the Committee itself that decides whether a

question can be put to a witness should an objection be raised.”

But Mcdowell disagreed with that analysis Wednesday evening, saying the House of Commons can waive parliament­ary privilege at its discretion and that law enforcemen­t still has ways to use the informatio­n disclosed at committee.

“You will appreciate that law enforcemen­t agencies and others are free to use the informatio­n disclosed in Committee hearings. As well, the House has, on occasion, waived Parliament­ary privilege,” said Mcdowell’s letter.

The saga is the continuati­on of a weeklong back-andforth battle between parliament­arians and the founders of the Toronto-based organizati­on, who were originally slated to testify in front of the ethics committee for three hours last Monday.

But last week, WE organizati­on lawyers wrote the committee saying the brothers were rescinding their commitment to testify because they would face “significan­t unfairness” from a “political” committee. They also promised to ignore any future summons.

A follow-up letter from WE lawyers sent on Monday

— after outraged members of the ethics committee unanimousl­y voted to formally summon the Kielburger­s to testify by the end of this week — clarified that the brothers would testify only if counsel could accompany them.

They also promised to decline to respond to questions on recent allegation­s of dubious donor recognitio­n practices that Angus has since referred to the RCMP and the Canada Revenue Agency.

In an interview Wednesday, Angus said that no committee member would allow the Kielburger­s to dictate what they can or cannot ask.

“I don’t care how much they pay their lawyer. He doesn’t get to negotiate in advance what parliament­arians can ask at a parliament­ary committee,” Angus said. “They were going to ignore the legal summons. Now they’re trying to negotiate what kind of questions they should have to answer. That’s not happening.”

The Kielburger­s will be testifying in the course of the ethic committee’s study on potential conflicts of interest in government spending during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The study has largely focused on the Liberal government’s

— and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s family’s — close ties to WE Charity, to which Ottawa outsourced a $912-million student volunteer grant program last summer before the organizati­on pulled out of the deal.

But MPS have also expressed a strong desire to grill the Kielburger­s on recent media reports and an individual’s testimony at committee revealing allegation­s of dubious donor recognitio­n practices.

Nearly two weeks ago, American journalist and WE Charity donor Reed Cowan told the same committee he had recently discovered that a plaque hanging on a school in Kenya he had funded in honour of his late son later bore another donor’s name.

CBC News has also reported on multiple instances where the WE organizati­on allegedly assured multiple donors that they had each funded the entirety of an infrastruc­ture project in Africa. WE has denied these allegation­s.

Since then, the RCMP, the Canada Revenue Agency and the U.S. Internal Revenue Service have been called on to investigat­e.

 ?? SEAN KILPATRICK / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES ?? A translator works as WE Charity founders Marc Kielburger, screen left, and Craig Kielburger, screen right, appear as witnesses via videoconfe­rence during a House of
Commons finance committee on July 28, 2020.
SEAN KILPATRICK / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES A translator works as WE Charity founders Marc Kielburger, screen left, and Craig Kielburger, screen right, appear as witnesses via videoconfe­rence during a House of Commons finance committee on July 28, 2020.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada