Members of the Trudeau family were paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by the WE organization for speeches between 2016 and 2020, WE Charity tells Canadaland in a statement. Most of the fees were covered by ME to WE Social Enterprise, a for-profit entity adjacent to the charity, but $64,000 was paid directly by WE Charity, in what the organization describes as a “billing error.”
WE says it paid $312,000 for 28 speaking events by Margaret Trudeau, the mother of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and $40,000 for eight events with Alexandre “Sacha” Trudeau, the PM’s brother. These totals include a 20% commission paid to Margaret and Alexandre Trudeau’s speaking agency, WE says.
These admissions contradict an earlier statement that their charity never paid the Trudeau family for speeches, and follow the discovery by Canadaland of invoices from the agency addressed to the charity.
When asked by CBC News on June 26 if they had ever paid the prime minister, his wife, or his mother for their appearances at WE events, WE said their charity “has never paid an honorarium to these individuals for their involvement.” That denial was repeated by the CBC and other news organizations over the next two weeks as the controversy unfolded, and at no time did WE, Justin Trudeau, or Margaret Trudeau ever say otherwise.
Today, WE Charity explained the apparent discrepancy to Canadaland:
WE released a statement saying that members of the Trudeau family did not receive speaking fees from WE Charity. ME to WE Social Enterprise, which is a separate for-profit entity, has paid honorariums via the Speakers’ Spotlight speaking bureau to Margaret Trudeau and Alexandre Trudeau. ME to WE Social Enterprise is one of the many sponsors of WE Day, and it has sponsored speakers over the years to speak at these free youth educational events.
However, as part of an internal review process we have undertaken, we have discovered that for a number of speeches there was an error in billing / payment. The charity paid the speakers’ bureau directly, and the charity was reimbursed by ME to WE Social Enterprise as part of their sponsorship of the speeches. The amount paid from the charity to Speakers’ Spotlight was approximately $64,000. This was an error and corrected by accounting.
WE says that all payments for Alexandre Trudeau’s speeches were made by ME to WE.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, when first asked about his family’s possible conflict of interest with WE Charity on June 26, acknowledged that he has worked with the charity, “voluntarily, of course…and I will continue to do so, as will my family.”
The invoices obtained by Canadaland show the speaking agency billing Free the Children (the former name of WE Charity) in two parts for Margaret Trudeau’s speaking fee of $7,500. Under “engagement date,” the invoices specify September 20, 2017, the date of that year’s WE Day UN at The Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York, where Margaret Trudeau appeared on stage shortly before the prime minister.
Other luminaries present included Chelsea Clinton and Whoopi Goldberg.
Canadaland sent questions to the Prime Minister’s Office, asking whether he knew that his mother had been paid for her appearance, and if he knew about other payments to his family from WE Charity, and if so, why he has not disclosed this.
The PMO has not responded.
Canadaland attempted to deliver questions to Margaret Trudeau through her publisher, HarperCollins. She did not immediately respond, but we will update our coverage if she does.
The federal Ethics Commissioner has launched an investigation into the Trudeau government’s now-abandoned $900 million deal with WE Charity, and the House of Commons finance committee has passed two motions to further investigate the matter.
Disclosure: Speakers’ Spotlight represents this reporter as his speaking agency.
Top image: Margaret Trudeau at the 2017 edition of WE Day UN in New York (Monica Schipper/Getty Images for WE Day).
Updated at 3:15 p.m. EDT on July 9, 2020.