Ottawa, July 14 (IANS) Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he made a mistake in not recusing himself from cabinet discussions about granting a summer student volunteer program of millions of dollars to a charity group which have close links to himself and his family members.
“I made a mistake in not recusing myself immediately from the discussions, given our family’s history, and I’m sincerely sorry about not having done that,” Trudeau said during his Monday press conference.
Trudeau’s apology comes after media reported that his mother, his brother and his wife, were paid about C$290,000 ($213,000) by WE Charity for speaking at the group’s events over the past years.
Trudeau and his government have been under fire since announcing on June 25 they were granting WE Charity group a sole-sourced contract to run the now-halted student volunteer summer program of C$900 million.
Trudeau said he’d been involved with youth volunteering well before he entered politics and throughout his time in politics.
“It is something that I believe deeply in and given all that, I should not have stayed involved in the conversations because of the organization involved, because of the links to WE that are there with my family and myself in the past.
“I regret this because this is something that I care deeply about, getting young people opportunities to serve has become more difficult because of a mistake I made, we’re going to work very, very hard to ensure that these young people continue to get opportunities to serve,” he added.
Trudeau said he knew his mother and brother were employed as public speakers but he didn’t know just how much his family members were paid by WE.
“I deeply regret that I have brought my mother into this situation. It’s unfair to her, and I should have been thoughtful enough to recuse myself from this situation.”
The student program is designed to provide up to C$5,000 in one-time payments to post-secondary students and recent graduates for volunteering in COVID-19 pandemic-related programs, depending on the number of hours worked.
Due to public outcry over the contract, the WE Charity and the Trudeau government announced on July 3 that they were ending the contract.
On the same day, Canada’s Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion announced that his office was launching an investigation into a possible breach of federal conflict of interest laws by Trudeau over his decision to award the WE Charity the program.
Canadian opposition Conservative Party on July 4 wrote to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), asking the national police to investigate possible criminal charges regarding the awarding of the student grant program.
WE Charity co-founders Craig and Marc Kielburger have posted a statement on the NGO’s website, acknowledging that Trudeau’s mother and brother were mistakenly paid by the charity for some speaking engagements but said once the error was discovered, the charity was reimbursed.
“We have made mistakes that we sincerely regret,” the co-founders said.
“It has led us to more closely examine our own internal structures, governance and organization.”