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What is the WE Charity scandal and who are the Kielburger brothers?

WE scandal: Who are Craig and Marc Kielburger?
WATCH: WE scandal: Who are Craig and Marc Kielburger?
The spotlight was set on Craig and Marc Kielburger — the founders of WE Charity — on Tuesday as the brothers testified before a house committee as part of an ongoing investigation involving Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
The inquiry seeks to determine whether the federal government engaged in a conflict of interest by awarding WE Charity a contract to administer a $900-million grant program to student volunteers amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
What to expect from Trudeau’s WE Charity testimony
What to expect from Trudeau’s WE Charity testimony

On Tuesday, the Kielburger brothers testified before the House of Commons finance committee, saying that WE Charity’s willingness to run the program was a “favour” they were doing to “be helpful to Canada.”

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But who exactly are the Kielburger brothers and what is this scandal all about?

Here’s a look at what’s going on.

Read more: WE Charity agreed to run student grant program as ‘favour’ to Canada: Kielburgers

Who is Craig Kielburger?

According to a biography posted on the WE Charity website, Craig Kielburger is a “social entrepreneur” and a co-founder of WE Charity.

He was born and raised in Thornhill, Ont.

Craig, alongside his brother Marc, founded WE Charity — formerly known as Free the Children — when they were teenagers, in 1995.

The younger of the Kielburger brothers was inspired to advocate on behalf of child labourers after reading a headline in the Toronto Star: “Battled child labour, boy, 12, murdered.”

WE scandal: MP Angus says ‘lack of accountability’ makes it hard to believe Craig, Marc Kielburger
WE scandal: MP Angus says ‘lack of accountability’ makes it hard to believe Craig, Marc Kielburger

The brothers’ initial Free the Children charity fundraised for a number of organizations which worked to help free children from situations of forced labour.

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The teens gained international recognition for their humanitarian work, appearing on a number of television programs including 60 Minutes and The Oprah Winfrey Show.

The Kielburgers’ charity eventually shifted focus and in 2016, Free the Children was officially re-branded as WE Charity.

WE Charity is an international development organization that has programs in Africa, Asia and Latin America, which focus on the issues of education, food, water, health and providing economic opportunity.

Read more: RBC, GoodLife Fitness drop WE Charity partnerships amid political scandal

According to the charity’s website, the organization also offers programs domestically in Canada, the U.S. and U.K. which seek to “educate and empower young people.”

Craig was named a member of the Order of Canada in 2006 for his years of humanitarian work.

He is the youngest ever graduate of the Kellogg-Schulich Executive MBA program, and is also the author of 12 books — many of which he co-authored with his brother, Marc.

Who is Marc Kielburger?

Marc is the older of the Kielburger brothers, and the other co-founder of WE Charity.

According to the WE Charity website, Marc graduated from Harvard University with a degree in international relations and was the recipient of a Rhodes Scholarship.

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Marc also completed a law degree at Oxford University.

WE scandal: Craig Kielburger says hiring Bill Morneau’s daughter not considered lobbying
WE scandal: Craig Kielburger says hiring Bill Morneau’s daughter not considered lobbying

The older Kielburger brother has also received 10 honourary doctorates and degrees for his work and was named a member of the Order of Canada in 2010.

He has also authored eight books.

In 2009, the Kielburger brothers also co-founded ME to WE, a social enterprise.

According to the ME to WE website, the for-profit makes annual donations averaging over 90 per cent of its revenue to WE Charity.

Read more: WE Charity probe continues as co-founders, Craig and Marc Kielburger set to testify

The brothers also started WE Days, which are a series of “inspiring events that celebrate youth making a difference in their local and global communities.”

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The events draw massive crowds and often include keynote speeches and performances from the world’s largest celebrities.

WE Charity scandal

However, WE Charity came under fire last month after the federal government announced the organization had been awarded a sole-source contract to administer the proposed Canada Student Service Grant program.

The program was slated to offer payments to students who engaged in volunteer work on community programs during the summer which focused on COVID-19.

The volunteer program was valued at $900 million, and administering the program would have seen WE Charity receive approximately $43 million.

However, on July 3, it was announced that WE Charity would no longer be administering the program, amid allegations that the organization had close ties federal government officials which could constitute a conflict of interest.

WE scandal: Co-founders Craig, Marc Kielburger defend taking on student grant program
WE scandal: Co-founders Craig, Marc Kielburger defend taking on student grant program

That same day, federal ethics watchdog Mario Dion announced he would be launching an investigation into the federal government and WE Charity grant, and that he had notified Trudeau.

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Less than a week later, WE Charity confirmed that Trudeau’s mother, Margaret Trudeau, had been paid a total of $312,000 for speaking at 28 WE events between 2016 and 2020.

Read more: A timeline of key events in the WE Charity, Trudeau controversy

And the charity said the Prime Minister’s brother, Alexandre Trudeau, had also been paid $40,000 for eight events in the 2017-18 academic year.

Trudeau and his wife, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, have regularly participated in WE Charity events.

Gregoire Trudeau hosts a podcast on the charity’s website for which she is not paid.

In 2012, though, she received $1,400 for a single appearance.

The prime minister has not been paid for any appearances, the charity confirmed.

Former WE Charity board ‘always understood’ speakers were not paid for WE Day: Douglas
Former WE Charity board ‘always understood’ speakers were not paid for WE Day: Douglas

Meanwhile, Finance Minister Bill Morneau revealed during a testimony before the finance committee last week that he, his wife and their daughters had taken trips with WE Charity.

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Morneau announced he had recently reimbursed the organization more than $41,000 to cover the travel expenses.

Both Trudeau and Morneau have issued apologies for failing to recuse themselves from the contract talks with WE Charity.

Read more: WE Charity grant agreement planned to spend roughly half of promised amount: documents

During their testimony on Tuesday, the Kielburger brothers said the organization had good intentions when accepting the single-sourced contract.

“We were not chosen for this work by public servants because of our relationship with politicians,” Craig said during the hearing.

“We were chosen because we are willing to leverage every part of our 25 years of experience to build this program at the break-neck speed required to have an impact on Canadian youth over the summer.”

The committee has been tasked with determining how an organization with close financial ties to prominent members of the government received a sole-sourced contract to run the Canada Student Service Grant.

Trudeau and his chief of staff Katie Telford, are scheduled to testify before the finance committee on Thursday.

— With files from Global News’ Amanda Connolly and Katie Dangerfield and The Canadian Press

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