For the third time in as many years, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Friday found himself at the center of a political firestorm — this time over the awarding of a lucrative government contract to a charity that also paid hefty sums to members of his family.
Canada’s Conservative opposition has demanded a police investigation to uncover whether fraud was committed in the granting of the C$900 million (US$662.064 million) contract to WE Charity in June.
The organization has admitted paying nearly C$300,000 to Trudeau’s mother, brother and wife for speaking engagements.
Trudeau said he had part in negotiations with the charity over the contract.
WE Charity said it was withdrawing from the federal program, which provides grants of up to C$5,000 to students for volunteer work with non-profit organizations during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We know that there are significant financial benefits that have been received by the family of the prime minister. It’s very clear there is sufficient grounds for this matter to be investigated by the police,” said Michael Barrett, a Canadian lawmaker of the Conservative Party. The program was “created out of thin air,” he added.
The country’s ethics watchdog said last week that it had launched a probe into the case.
WE Charity paid the prime minister’s mother, Margaret Trudeau, C$250,000 for speeches at 28 events between 2016 and 2020, according to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, adding that it also paid his brother Alexandre Trudeau C$32,000 for his participation in eight events.
The prime minister’s office confirmed that first lady Sophie Trudeau “received $1,500” for participating in a WE Charity event in 2012, before Trudeau took over the leadership of the Liberal Party.
“The Prime Minister’s relatives engage with a variety of organizations and support many personal causes on their own accord,” Justin Trudeau’s office said in a press release Thursday. “What is important to remember here is that this is about a charity supporting students.”
Just a day before, Justin Trudeau’s office said that neither he nor his wife had ever received payment for appearing at events hosted by non-governmental organizations.
The Conservative Party says that the existing ethics probe is insufficient, given the new revelations about the sums paid to the Trudeau family before the contract was awarded.
“It’s not just a conflict of interest. It’s much more serious than that,” Canadian Shadow Minister for Finance Pierre Poilievre said, calling for a police investigation into violations of laws regulating “frauds on government.”
The Bloc Quebecois party asked Justin Trudeau to step aside during the investigation and allow his deputy to fulfill his duties.
“The nature of the allegations, the significant sums involved, the apparent flagrant conflict of interest, the possibility that a criminal inquiry could follow on this matter make it impossible for the prime minister to do his job,” Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet said.
The nation’s ethics commissioner has already released two reports concluding that Justin Trudeau violated the Canadian Conflict of Interest Act: in 2017, for taking a vacation on a private island, and last year for trying to influence legal proceedings in a large-scale bribery case.
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