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Tories ask speaking agency to release records on WE’s payments to Trudeau family

The request is contained in a letter from Conservative ethics critic Michael Barrett to Speakers' Spotlight

August 28, 2020  The Canadian Press

Trudeau and his wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau. PHOTO: Justin Trudeau/Twitter

OTTAWA — The federal Conservatives are calling on a speaking agency through which WE Charity paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to members of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s family to hand over all documents about the arrangements.

The request is contained in a letter from Conservative ethics critic Michael Barrett to Speakers’ Spotlight on Aug. 27 and comes amid a brewing battle over the blacking out of thousands of other WE-related documents released by Trudeau last week.

In his letter to Speakers’ Spotlight, Barrett notes the agency was first asked by the House of Commons ethics committee to produce the documents last month.

The initial deadline was July 29 for all records pertaining to speaking appearances by Trudeau, his wife Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, mother Margaret Trudeau and brother Alexandre Trudeau at different WE events dating back to October 2008.

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The agency subsequently asked for an extension and the committee agreed to a new date of Aug. 19. Trudeau prorogued Parliament one day before that new deadline, ending the committee investigations that were underway into the WE controversy.

Parliament is set to return Sept. 23 with a new speech from the throne.

In his letter, Barrett said the committee agreed to the request for an extension “in good faith,” and that the decision to prorogue Parliament represented “an attack on our democracy and the ethics committee’s duty to Canadians to pursue truth and justice.”

Despite prorogation, however, Barrett said there was nothing to stop the agency from “doing the right thing” and delivering the documents.

“The shuttering of the ethics committee does not hinder your ability to make this information public in order to bring clarity and transparency to government,” he wrote.

Speakers’ Spotlight could not be immediately reached for comment Aug. 27.

The federal ethics watchdog is investigating whether Trudeau violated the Conflict of Interest Act for his role in the Liberal government’s decision to have WE administer a multimillion-dollar student-volunteer program.

WE backed out of the agreement in early July, citing the political controversy, and the program has since been abandoned.

Trudeau has been a featured speaker at six WE Day events and his wife hosts a podcast for the group. Both WE and the Trudeaus have said the couple was not paid for their work.

But WE has confirmed that Trudeau’s mother was paid about $250,000 for 28 speaking appearances at WE-related events between 2016 and 2020 and his brother has been paid $32,000 for eight events.

The organization has also said the two were reimbursed about $200,000 in expenses, while Gregoire Trudeau has participated in seven WE Days and received an average of $3,618 for each event, to cover her expenses. That works out to $25,326 in total.

Trudeau has apologized for not recusing himself from cabinet’s discussions about the agreement to have WE run Canada Student Services Grant, but insisted it was public servants who recommended the organization.

Thousands of government documents released by Trudeau last week appeared to back up that assertion, but the records — many of which were blacked out — also suggested bureaucrats may have been encouraged to work with WE by their political masters.

Opposition parties have since taken aim at the redactions made by the government before they were released in response to a request from the Commons finance committee as part of its own investigation into the WE controversy.

Parliament’s independent law clerk has also chimed in by challenging the redactions in a letter to the clerk of the finance committee obtained by The Canadian Press.

“The departments made certain redactions to the documents on grounds that were not contemplated in the order of the committee,” law clerk Philippe Dufresne wrote to finance committee clerk David Gagnon on Aug. 18.

“We note that the House’s and its committees’ power to order the production of records is absolute and unfettered as it constitutes a constitutional parliamentary privilege that supersedes statutory obligations, such as the exemptions found in the Access to Information Act.”

The clerk of the Privy Council, Ian Shugart, has defended the redactions as being in accordance with the committee’s own decision to protect cabinet secrets and personal information, and that information not relevant to the student grant program was withheld.