Trudeau Foundation CEO, board out over alleged Beijing-linked donation

Click to play video: 'Trudeau Foundation CEO, board of directors resign'
Trudeau Foundation CEO, board of directors resign
WATCH: Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation CEO Pascale Fournier and the organization's board of directors say they're stepping down, and calls are mounting for an investigation into the charity, which is accused of having connections to foreign interference. Mackenzie Gray explains – Apr 11, 2023

The president and CEO, as well as the entire volunteer board of directors of the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation, resigned Tuesday in the wake of “pressure” following a media report detailing a $200,000 donation with alleged ties to Beijing.

That seven-year-old donation, which the foundation said it was returning last month following reporting into its alleged links to the Chinese government, created an environment that made it “impossible to continue with the status quo,” according to a statement from the organization.

“In recent weeks, the political climate surrounding a donation received by the foundation in 2016 has put a great deal of pressure on the foundation’s management and volunteer board of directors, as well as on our staff and our community,” it said.

“The circumstances created by the politicization of the foundation have made it impossible to continue with the status quo, and the volunteer board of directors has resigned, as has the president and CEO.”

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It added that three directors will remain on an interim basis so that the foundation can continue to meet its obligations pending board renewal, including towards its scholars, mentors and fellows.

The Trudeau Foundation was named in a February Globe and Mail report, citing an unnamed national security source, that detailed an alleged plot by the Chinese government to influence Justin Trudeau after he became Liberal leader.

The report alleged a Chinese billionaire was instructed by Beijing to donate $1 million to the Trudeau Foundation in 2014, the year before the Liberals came to power under Trudeau.

Click to play video: 'Pierre Poilievre alleges China ‘targeted’ Conservatives in alleged election interference'
Pierre Poilievre alleges China ‘targeted’ Conservatives in alleged election interference

The report says that he and a second wealthy Chinese businessman donated $1 million in honour of the elder Trudeau in 2016, including $200,000 to the foundation.

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Pascale Fournier, the now former president and CEO of the Trudeau Foundation, which the prime minister has not been involved with since becoming leader, said last month that the amount was refunded.

Click to play video: 'Trudeau says government continues to ensure security services amid foreign interference claims'
Trudeau says government continues to ensure security services amid foreign interference claims

The Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation is an independent charity created in 2002 that supports mentorship programs for aspiring scholars and leaders. The foundation funds awards and fellowships for doctoral research in the social sciences and humanities.

Members of the foundation include Trudeau’s brother, Alexandre Trudeau, along with prominent current and former leaders from financial institutions, top universities, a former Saskatchewan premier, constitutional experts, lawyers and writers. Its board of directors includes the former lieutenant governor of Nova Scotia, a former mayor of Iqaluit, and leaders from prominent Canadian universities and firms.

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Like all registered charities, the foundation is prohibited by law from engaging in any political activity, including funding any entity — parties, candidates, nominees, riding associations – which are registered with Elections Canada.

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The Liberal government has been under immense pressure to explain what it knew about allegations of foreign interference in the 2019 and 2021 elections following reporting by Global News and the Globe and Mail over recent months alleging that intelligence sources said China attempted to interfere in those elections.

Click to play video: 'Chinese Canadians urge feds to look into the depth, danger of China’s meddling'
Chinese Canadians urge feds to look into the depth, danger of China’s meddling

The prime minister has ordered a slew of investigations into the matter, and tapped former Conservative-appointed governor general David Johnston to guide the government on its response to the threat. Johnston will have until May 23 to decide whether a public inquiry – a method many are calling for – is warranted.

The issue has become highly partisan on Parliament Hill: last month, Trudeau accused Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre rival of trying to score political points at the expense of Canadian democracy on by questioning his personal relationship with Johnston.

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Meanwhile, opposition parties have accused the Liberals of filibustering at committee to prevent a vote for the prime minister’s chief of staff to testify on foreign interference attempts. Katie Telford is scheduled to appear at the procedure and House affairs committee on Friday, the PMO said Monday following delays over several meetings.

Poilievre has accused Trudeau and Johnston of being too close, noting the prime minister has previously called them family friends. Johnston is also involved in the Trudeau Foundation, but was appointed as governor general by former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper.

Poilievre tweeted Tuesday that the foundation needs to be investigated to know “who got paid and who got privilege and power from Justin Trudeau as a result of funding to the Trudeau Foundation.”

Trudeau told reporters in Toronto afterwards it was a “shame to see the level of toxicity and political polarization that is going on in our country these days.”

“I am certain that the Trudeau Foundation will be able to continue to ensure that research into the social studies and humanities at the highest levels across Canadian academic institutions continues for many years to come,” he said.

— with files from The Canadian Press


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