WE Charity winding down operations in Canada after student grants scandal

WE Charity winding down operations in Canada after student grants scandal

After months in the political spotlight and pointed questions about its role in a summer student grants contract, WE Charity is winding down its operations in Canada.

The move comes as the charity — like many other non-profits in this country — faces a cash crunch as donations dip due to the pandemic. WE also acknowledges that it found itself in the middle of a political scandal over the student grants contract that it was “ill-equipped” to fight.

In a media statement, the charity said the fallout from its failed effort to administer a $912-million contribution agreement on behalf of the federal government has made fundraising difficult and the “financial math for the charity’s future is clear.”

“Through decisive action to preserve our savings, sell our assets and establish an endowment, we hope to sustain global projects for the long-term, like our hospital, college and agricultural learning centre that meet critical needs of children and families,” Craig Kielburger, co-founder of the charity, said in the statement.

The charity said a number of its corporate sponsorships have been cancelled and it doesn’t have the cash on hand to keep funding the projects it supports around the world.

WE says it will liquidate some of its assets to create an endowment fund to support projects in Latin America, Asia and Africa that are underway but not yet completed.

The charity said it would sell most of its real estate in Toronto, including its “global learning centre,” to fund those projects.

Virtually all of the charity’s operations in Canada will come to an end. The charity said it would no longer provide educational resources to teachers or employ “youth service coaches.”

“We are saddened by these developments. This year marks the 25th anniversary of WE Charity Canada. We planned to launch an endowment this year, but not in this way,” said Marc Kielburger, the other co-founder.

The WE Charity liquidation comes just days after the organization repaid the federal government all the cash it had received to administer the ill-fated student grant program, which was supposed to pair university students with volunteer opportunities over the summer. A spokesperson for Youth Minister Bardish Chagger confirmed WE had repaid $30 million last week.

WE Charity was awarded a $43.5 million contract to manage the $900 million student volunteer grant program. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and then-finance minister Bill Morneau did not recuse themselves from cabinet talks on the deal, despite both having family ties to the organization. Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion is carrying out investigations on Trudeau and Morneau’s actions.

The federal Conservatives have been calling on WE to release a series of documents the Toronto-based youth organization promised to hand over to a House of Commons committee before Prime Minister Trudeau prorogued Parliament. Today, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole again called on WE to “immediately release the documents.”

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