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WE scandal hurts youth and trust in government and charities

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Trudeau with Marc and Craig Kielburger at a WE Day event in 2017. Image: Adam Scotti/PMO

WE Charity, formerly known as Free the Children, was founded in 1995 by 12-year-old Craig and his brother Marc Kielburger after they read about the murder of a 12-year-old Pakistani carpet factory worker named Iqbal Massiah.

WE Charity is now shutting down its Canadian operations, but not WE Charity US, WE Charity UK, ME to WE social enterprise, or other WE entities. The expected financial, psychological and social impacts of WE's decision to close down in Canada can't be ignored.

Canadian teens have a very positive view of WE since they have worked in various capacities with WE in Canada and in distant lands, and earned the confidence that youth could make a positive difference in society.

In 2019, WE Charity spent $32.6 million on Canadian programs, including donated goods in-kind and volunteer time. It included the WE Days, WE School resources, WE Teachers and WE Well-being. WE Days were youth rallies that celebrated social good.

The 2019 WE Day tour included visits to Toronto, Halifax, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Vancouver and Ottawa. WE Days featured speakers, athletes and celebrity performers. More than 200,000 youth attend WE Days, which were free with youth "earning tickets" by doing social activities.

The alleged secret ties between WE and the government resulted in the ultimate closure of WE operations, which is a very significant loss for our children.

The Canadians of conscience are raising questions on the transparency of the grant approval by the government.

What is the spirit behind collecting charity and giving it to the deserving human beings?

Why is that kind of transparency not maintained and who doesn't know that getting favours for approving any grant is never transparent and raises questions?

Who is responsible for the losses Canadian children will suffer?

Charity is a concept that has no geographical and religious boundaries. The Jewish concept of Tzedakah (charity giving) instructs all Jews to give to charity. Christians, for instance, believe: "Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously." Islam says charity promotes prosperity to the donor, recipient and society.

Those who run charities also have a duty to be accountable. In Canada, the most basic transparency requirement for registered charities is that every year they must file the T3010 Registered Charity Information Return. If charities do not file the form, they can be revoked by CRA for nonfiling within just a few months.

The alleged corruption charges have destroyed both the reputation of WE and the transparency of government. When an organization can't explain its structure, working, and hidden connections to positions of authority it loses the trust easily.

WE's closure will hurt Canadian children who have lost educational help, financial support, social engagement and training. It is also a wound on governance, which may keep on bleeding until the confidence of donors and the public is completely restored in government grants.

Those who are found responsible for any crimes must be dealt with strictly according to the law.

Mehdi Rizvi is a chemist and former member of the Toronto Star community editorial board. This article originally appeared in the Toronto Star.

Image: Adam Scotti/PMO

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