A new book offering an insider’s view of what really happened with WE Charity and the Canada Student Service Grant (CSSG) – the political scandal that shook Canada in the first summer of the COVID 19 pandemic – has bookshelves across the country.
Written by lawyer and former WE Charity Board member Tawfiq S. Rangwala, “What WE Lost” takes readers behind the scenes of the biggest political story of the pandemic and chronicles not just the loss of one of Canada’s most respected charities, but of the damage done to those in the developing world, thousands of miles from halls of Parliament.
The book details never-before-heard stories and shocking revelations from key players in the saga.
From the offices of WE Charity in the months leading up to the announcement of the program in June 2020; to Parliamentary committee meetings where MPs used shaky tactics and strategic leaks to attack the charity in a proxy war against the Justin Trudeau government; to Canadian newsrooms where journalists amplified the rhetoric of politicians and WE’s detractors; and finally, to the villages of Kenya where the true cost of the scandal could be measured in lost lives, cancelled education programs and shuttered water projects; the book provides completely new perspective on these extraordinary events.
Here are the Top 10 most shocking revelations in the book:
- Journalist Reed Cowan tried to extort $20 million from WE Charity
Many will remember the US television anchor’s emotional testimony before the Parliamentary committee examining the Canada Student Service Grant program, but few know that Cowan had sent a letter to WE Charity demanding $20 million USD to buy his silence. No Canadian media has ever reported on the threat, despite it being covered by the Washington Post.
- Why Michelle Douglas, former Chair of WE Charity’s Board of Directors, really left the organization
Politicians, media reports and even Ms. Douglas’ own testimony painted her as a whistleblower and hero standing up to the organization’s founders. In fact, the reason she left was because in March 2020 (as the COVID-19 pandemic hit North America), senior management at WE Charity saw the economic writing on the wall and knew the charity had to initiate layoffs to survive the pandemic. One of those to be laid off was Douglas’ sister – a move which she vocally opposed. The conflict of interest became so blatant and uncomfortable for senior leaders, that the founders of WE Charity asked Douglas to step down.
- WE Charity is suing the CBC over “false and defamatory reports” by The Fifth Estate
Despite two years of non-stop media coverage about every aspect of the WE organization, no mainstream Canadian media reported on WE Charity’s lawsuit against the CBC. Filed in February 2022, the suit accuses CBC of false and misleading reporting in a series of stories by The Fifth Estate that claimed WE Charity had deceived its donors about projects in Kenya.
- Canadaland Publisher, Jesse Brown, was roasted by other Journalists for testifying before a Parliamentary Committee
When Brown announced on Twitter that was going to testify about WE Charity before the Finance Committee (something no other Canadian journalist has ever agreed to do), his peers were quick to pounce. Global News’ Chief Political Correspondent, David Akin responded to Brown’s tweet, writing “Why? Was there something you neglected to report on that you are going to tell the committee? Terrible precedent.” James McLeod of the Financial Post wrote: “As with many Jesse Brown things, it’s fun to imagine how Jesse Brown would react if a journalist at the cbc or a legacy media outlet did this.” Althia Raj (then of the Huffington Post) wrote “I’m sorry but this is ridiculous. Mr. Brown.”
- WE Charity was found guilty of… nothing
There was no shortage of calls for investigation of WE Charity in summer 2020. Opposition MPs demanded the RCMP, the Lobbying Commissioner, the federal Ethics Commissioner and the Canada Revenue Agency, among others, look into the WE organization. Two years later, none of these entities has found any evidence of wrongdoing on WE’s part, with multiple independent investigations confirming the same. As a Toronto Star headline noted “Forensic analysis exonerates WE Charity”.
- The CBC Allegedly “Harassed” former WE Charity donors
The Fifth Estate’s Mark Kelley and Harvey Cashore went all out in trying to make a story against WE regarding its projects in Kenya. An excerpt from the book states, “one (former WE Charity) donor group received forty-three calls or emails from the CBC and felt they were being harassed. The Fifth Estate team also called one supporter’s local church and another’s ex-husband’s workplace.”
- A Bloomberg reporter in Kenya tried to bribe local school children for quotes
Bloomberg’s African correspondent, David Herbling, is accused of coaching children into saying they were caned while attending WE Charity schools in Kenya, and he allegedly offered some of the children money to say they were abused.
- Charity Intelligence continued to give WE Charity its highest possible rating until July 2020
The charity rating organization and its main spokesperson, Kate Bahen, became media favourites in summer 2020 for allegedly blowing the whistle on WE Charity months before the CSSG was announced (in June 2020). However, as the book points out, this was revisionist history on Ms. Bahen’s part: “When Quebec MP Annie Koutrakis pointed out that Charity Intelligence didn’t downgrade the charity’s rating until July 10, which was after CSSG announcement had been made, Bahen replied, ‘That’s an excellent point. That’s a point our research team will be going through.’”
- WE Founders received death threats after the Toronto Sun published their home address
The Kielburgers received multiple death threats in the weeks after the CSSG was terminated, but the threats peaked after Toronto Sun Columnist, Brian Lilley, published Marc Kielburger’s home address. From the book: “…Lilley published Marc’s home address. As a result, Marc’s and Craig’s families began receiving death threats by phone, email, and tweet, including several directed at their young children. The police had to be contacted on multiple occasions.”
- MPs Accused a WE Employee with a Brain Aneurysm of Overstating his Condition to Avoid Testifying
Members of the Ethics committee (ETHI) demanded that Victor Lee, WE Charity’s CFO, testify in person before the committee. MPs were informed behind closed doors that he could not to the fact that he had recently been diagnosed with a brain aneurysm. But some, including the NDP’s Charlie Angus, were initially unmoved. From the book: “’Seven months in, we have had obstruction, refusals and denials to participate,’ complained Charlie Angus in one committee meeting. He was one of the most vicious in his attacks on Victor Li, downplaying his condition as ‘feeling sick’ and accusing the whole organization of having ‘a sense of entitlement.’”
“What WE Lost”, published by Optimum Publishing International.