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WE details thousands in fees for Trudeaus as volunteers await revamped program

WE paid Trudeau family

The WE organization has paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in speaking fees to members of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's family, it acknowledged Thursday, as organizations that need volunteers awaited word of the future of a $900-million program WE was to run.

The government says it is working on what to do with the Canada Student Services Grant after its agreement with WE was cancelled amid controversy over the Trudeau family's connections to the Toronto-based charity and its for-profit arm, ME to WE Social Enterprise.

The WE organization said Thursday that it had paid Trudeau's mother Margaret about $250,000 for 28 speaking appearances at WE-related events between 2016 and 2020.

His brother Alexandre has been paid $32,000 for eight events, according to WE. The organization that represents them as speakers was paid additional commissions, WE said.

And Trudeau's wife Sophie Gregoire Trudeau received $1,400 in 2012 for a single appearance that year.

Most of the payments went from the for-profit component of the organization, which sponsors the charitable component, WE Charity said in a statement, though about $64,000 went from WE Charity to Margaret Trudeau's speaker's bureau because of "an error in billing / payment."

"Justin Trudeau has never been paid by WE Charity or ME to WE Social Enterprise for any speeches or any other matters," WE Charity said.

Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet said late Thursday that Trudeau should step aside until the matter is fully probed, turning power over to Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland.

Trudeau is now under investigation by the ethics commissioner over allegations of a potential conflict of interest when the government awarded the sole-source contract to WE. Trudeau has acknowledged he did not recuse himself when cabinet approved the deal.

Trudeau has maintained the non-partisan public service recommended WE to administer the deal, while his spokesman Alex Wellstead on Thursday said "the prime minister's relatives engage with a variety of organizations and support many personal causes on their own accord."

"What is important to remember here is that this is about a charity supporting students. The Canada Student Service Grant program is about giving young people opportunities to contribute to their communities, not about benefits to anyone else."

WE's sudden departure from the volunteering program has created confusion as the days tick past for young people to put in hours for which the government promises to pay them up to $5,000 toward schooling.

Several non-profits say they and their volunteers are anxiously waiting for answers from the government, including whether the program is going to go ahead and the students they have already taken on will be compensated for their work.

"I have three or four students talk to me and they're anxious, and I get why they're anxious," said Emily Fern, mission co-ordinator for the Saint Andrew's Community Outreach and Support Program in Whitby, Ont. "And I've had a mom call me and she's anxious.

"I've got a few people who are volunteering in good faith right now and we are keeping track of their hours. And some of the families that use our program have been asking (to volunteer) and I can't tell them anything right now."

The grant program promises to pay students up to $5,000 for their post-secondary educations if they volunteer the maximum 500 hours. WE said last week that around 35,000 applications had been received for the program.



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