The House of Commons ethics committee unanimously passed a motion today to compel the men behind WE Charity to appear before MPs to explain their role in the botched summer student grants program and answer questions about allegations of donor fraud.
The chair of the committee, Conservative MP Chris Warkentin, is expected to formally issue a summons later today demanding that Craig and Marc Kielburger appear by Friday.
If the Kielburgers don’t show up by then, the committee is expected to refer the matter to the larger Commons to give MPs a chance to issue a legally binding order compelling them to appear. Today’s motion was passed with support from all MPs on the committee.
And if the WE Charity founders ignore such an order, they could be found in contempt of Parliament. The Commons has the power to imprison people for such breaches.
The brothers already have said they will not testify before a “partisan” committee that is probing allegations of malfeasance at the charity — and its role in a multi-million dollar student program that was derailed by a political scandal over personal ties between the charity, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and former finance minister Bill Morneau.
“For individuals to openly dismiss the invitations and to preemptively say they won’t respond to a summons is flouting the legitimacy and authority of Canada’s Parliament,” Conservative MP Michael Barrett said.
“The letter from their legal counsel was shocking, and it was highly inappropriate,” he said of a letter the brothers released last Friday that suggested they would ignore all requests to appear.
He said the two men have disappointed the legions of schoolchildren who participated in their fundraising events. “It’s absolutely the wrong message to send,” he said.
NDP MP Charlie Angus said refusing to obey by a summons before one has even been issued “is a direct challenge to the powers of Parliament.”
“We cannot be obstructed in this work just because the central people in the drama don’t want to be held accountable,” Angus said.
Angus said the brothers must be forced to respond to allegations made by Reed Cowan, a former member of WE Charity’s advisory board, who testified last month that the brothers duped donors by swapping out plaques placed on African schools to coax more money out of would-be contributors.