WE organization CFO Victor Li initially refused to appear before the House of Commons committee probing into WE Charity’s operations and the now-cancelled student grant program they were contracted to administer on behalf of the Liberal government.
Then he was threatened with a summons.
Having been asked to appear before the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy, and Ethics, he refused, citing health problems. His lawyers tussled with the committee for the ability to exchange questions and answers in writing.
Victor Li acts as the CFO of both WE Charity and ME to WE Social Enterprises in Canada, the CFO of WE Charity in the United States, and the treasurer of the U.S. ME to WE Foundation but has been on medical leave since the summer.
In response to a list of 100 questions from parliamentarians, Li sent a document that failed to answer many of their pointed queries about the complicated finances and transactions of WE and its many related entities. (We have posted it at bottom.)
Charlie Angus, MP for Timmins—James Bay, says that Li has five days to respond to all of the questions the committee posed or he risks facing contempt.
“The committee has unanimously expressed their frustration that Mr. Li has failed to provide answers to key questions about WE Charity’s financial structure. This was a perfect opportunity for Mr. Li to clear the air regarding questions about how many projects WE has undertaken, how they handle donor funds, and the relationship between the for-profit companies and the charity. The committee is giving him five days to respond to these questions, or it will be referred to the House as a potential case of contempt,” Angus tells Canadaland.
Some of the the committee’s questions that went unanswered are as follows:
How much money moved from WE Charity to ME to WE 2019 and 2020? Please list the reasons.
Recent media reports suggest that multiple donors and donations were used to fund the same local infrastructure projects in Kenya? What mechanisms and safeguards were put in place to ensure this did not happen?
What financial policies and systems do you use to track and account for any donations coming into any Kielburger related organizations? How far back do these records go?
What systems and structures do you have in place to ensure that designated funding is actually spent in the appropriate places?
You were the director of the WE Charity Foundation? Who did you take direction from in running this organization, as Craig and Marc Kielburger suggested they were not involved in that particular entity?
When Bill Morneau repaid, WE Charity (or the relevant WE entity) $41,366 on July 22, 2020 for his 2017 family trip to Kenya, did WE issue a receipt for the payment? If so, please provide a scanned copy of it.
Please provide all details about the WE Charity Foundation organization, structure, and decision-making process. Were there any conflict of interests flagged with the foundation? If so, what measures were in place to recuse those with conflicts from the decision-making process?
Do donor agreements include the ability to have their branding/logo/name be a part of any materials that is provided to students, schools, and school groups? If so, are they given charitable deductions for this or is this considered paid advertising?
Allegations have been raised that Me to We is used to cover expenses that would have appropriately been covered by We Charity. Will you provide an annual report from Me to We so we can see what is covered under the heading of “expenses”?
Excluding “in-kind” how much money flowed from ME to WE in 2019 and 2020? Please list the reasons.
We have been informed that some staff at Free the Children/We Charity were paid through Me to We. How many employees were paid through the for-profit wing while working for the charity?
Please provide all details and information on Mingzie Li’s role in acquiring real estate for the WE organization? Why was important for an international charity to acquire significant real estate holdings in Toronto?
ME to WE Foundation US reports US$15.8 million in program spending since 2015, but reports no staff or wages paid. What specifically was this money spent on?” Source: Charity Intelligence.
Throughout his written submission, there are many times where Li did not answer or provided a vague answer and lumped questions together without offering a clear answer. Li alleges he was not involved in the negotiations with the Government of Canada for the student program but does not deny being a signatory to the agreement. He repeatedly asserts that both himself and WE followed CRA requirements. In many places, such as when describing Bill Morneau paying back expenses, Li provided partial answers, saying a tax receipt was not issued.
One of the questions Li answers confirms what Canadaland first reported last summer: the accountant credentials WE.org publicized for Victor Li were false.
Li says that he did not write his profile on WE.org, which is in a question-and-answer format. The profile stated, “I am professionally certified in accounting in four different countries—Canada, the U.S., UK, and China. I have also worked with our partner charities in countries such as Kenya, India, and Ecuador.”
The profile also states that before joining WE, Li worked at one of the largest steel companies in China.
Li is indeed a chartered professional accountant in Canada, but when asked to provide his credentials for the US, the UK, or China, Li provided the committee with his Canadian credentials and said that the bio was “inaccurate” and that he had asked for it to be changed last summer. It remained unchanged as of Monday afternoon, but by Monday night, WE Charity notified Canadaland that they had “adjusted the one sentence” that inaccurately described Li’s credentials.
In the revised passage, Li is now quoted as saying, “I am professionally certified in Canada and have experience and training in four different countries — Canada, the U.S., UK, and China.”
In response to Li’s testimony and failure to appear before the committee, WE stresses that Li is on medical leave and says, “There has been no ‘financial impropriety’ on the part of WE Charity or any of its entities. To suggest otherwise would be unfounded and incorrect.”
On March 24, Megan Savard, Li’s lawyer, suggested that his health issues prevent him from fully answering the questions or providing testimony before the committee. In a letter to the committee, she stated that “according to his doctor, a return to full-time work, or other exposure to stress, could cause a rupture of the brain aneurysm, permanent disability, or death.”
Victor Li was hoping to avoid publicizing his health issues. Unfortunately, members of the Committee and media have incorrectly, repeatedly and publicly suggested that he is refusing to cooperate with Parliament. Here is our response: pic.twitter.com/yJMYkvBzl2
— Megan Savard (@megan__savard) March 24, 2021
Updates: This post was updated on March 23, 2021, at 10:05 a.m. EDT, to reflect statements given by WE Charity, and on March 24, 2021, 8:37 p.m. EDT, to update the post with new details regarding Li’s medical issues provided by Li’s lawyer.
Correction (March 24, 2021, at 8:37 p.m. EDT): An earlier version of this story reported that Victor Li was summoned to appear before the Ethics Committee after he refused to testify. In fact, once the committee threatened to issue a legal summons in response to his refusal, Li agreed to provide written testimony. We regret the error.