July 13th, 2020
Twenty-five years ago, we started WE Charity in Thornhill, Ontario, as a group of 12-year old students with a dream of empowering other youth like ourselves at-home and around the world.
When we were asked by the Government of Canada to run the Canadian Student Service Grant (CSSG) in response to COVID-19, our team stepped up. We agreed to this challenge because we have 25 years of experience building youth service programs that are in 7,000 Canadian schools engaging students to support 3,000+ charities and causes.
Our team worked hard. In the first week after launch, there were 35,000 applicants. Students across the country joined, and 64 per cent were visible minorities. A coalition of 83 not-for-profit partners supported over 24,000 service placements, with more opportunities being added.
The program was immediately enmeshed in controversy. WE Charity transferred what was built to the government, hoping to save the opportunities we had created for students. Valid questions have persisted, and we want to answer them.
First, the public service has openly stated that it was their recommendation for WE Charity to receive the contract for this project. Over the years we have received grants from and worked with federal and provincial governments led by a diversity of political parties for our youth and school programs.
Second, the contract reimbursed the charity for its expenses to deliver the Canadian Student Service Grant (CSSG) program. To be clear, it did not provide the charity with a “profit”. The funds were used for the program or returned to the government. All was subject to government audit.
Third, when we ended the contract, we did not accept any reimbursement for the work that we had done to establish the program. WE has not profited from this contract in any way.
Fourth, we respect the public concern that Margaret Trudeau and Alexandre Trudeau were paid past speaking honorariums. As with some of our speakers, honorariums were provided for individuals who committed to speaking at multiple WE Day cities and many additional events while in the city, requiring significant time commitments. No charitable funds were intended to pay their honorarium, as costs were sponsored by “ME to WE Social Enterprise”. Once we learned that the charity did pay for some of their speeches, the error was identified, and the charity was reimbursed. Yet, the error should not have happened, and we apologize.
The past two weeks have been extremely difficult. The charity’s integrity and purpose has been called into question. It has had direct impacts on our staff, supporters, and beneficiaries. We have made mistakes that we sincerely regret. It has led us to more closely examine our own internal structures, governance and organization.
In the days to come we will have more to say on these matters and about the organization’s future. For now, we wanted to set the record straight, take responsibility for our part, and refocus on the mission that started twenty-five years ago.
Sincerely, Craig Kielburger and Marc Kielburger WE Charity Co-Founders