Can You Pass This Simple Test?

I went back on Twitter last month because I thought I would have a lot to say about the Canadian federal election campaign. And I am not thrilled about the way society is dealing with Covid. I think Covid is a test of morality – how much we care about others and are willing to give up to help them – and we are failing.

I also see the WE Charity “scandal” as a test. Not just of morality, where some politicians, especially a couple on the ridiculous House of Commons Ethics Committee, and several media outlets showed their flaws. But also of the ability of people, often including those who are quite smug about their intellects, to use critical thinking skills.

Bright people, especially on the Left, have shown so much pride lately in the fact that they are smarter than the MAGA crowd and don’t get fooled by propaganda posted on the Internet. Yet I see them swallowing ludicrous Internet reporting and dreadful podcasts as though their preferred media has some kind of lock on the truth, and cannot be challenged.

Many of these start-ups are, of course, a mirror image of the Fox News-Infowars stream of pseudo media, where only one side is told. Today, I listed to Part 4 of Canadaland’s White Saviors podcast on WE and wondered how so many people lost their critical thinking skills.

First, the podcasters suggest Marc Kielburger is a violent man, capable of murder. A stolen recording of Kielburger talking to a Kenyan who rants about kidnapping, bribery and other nasty things gets played. But all the nasty stuff is from the Kenyan on the other end of line, with Kielburger asking questions like, “are you alright?” Anyone who knows Marc Kielburger finds this claim utterly absurd, and there’s nothing in this podcast to prove them wrong.

(I am also told by WE that the recording has been cut and spliced.)

Then there are the mixed claims about Kenya. It’s said to be the sixth-richest country in Africa, which, to me, is a “smartest kid in summer school” boast. The narrator, a man from Nigeria, on the other side of Africa (but, hey, Africa!) tells listeners that NGOs operate in Kenya because it is a relatively rich country, safe and pleasant. But this wealth doesn’t seem to translate into schools in the countryside, so WE Charity’s work was needed, and this inconsistency is never explained.

The podcast is built on the premise that the Kenyan government is corrupt, that it covers for NGOs while at the same time threatening to severely regulate them, that WE somehow has an “in” with Kenya but at the same time had to change ownerships of property in Kenya to keep regulators at bay and had to get rid of foreign staff and hire Kenyans, and that Kenyan regulators take bribes, wo outfits like WE can do what they like. Again, which is it?

And one of the sins of all foreign employees of NGOs – the podcast writers flip between NGOs in general and WE Charity whenever it suits them – is that they live in nice houses in gated communities, and that WE tightly scripts and controls visits be donors. This may explain why.

If I were to dust off my teaching clothes and give a university lecture on propaganda, I would use the music in this podcast to show how background sounds, which most people rarely think about or even consciously clue into, are used to manipulate emotion.

Whenever Jesse Brown is talking, the music is heroic. When accusations are laid at the feet of WE, the music is sappy. When Canadaland gives a quick summary of WE’s position, the music is clownish.

The Kenyans are tarred with a terrible brush. “I can 100 per cent say that he (Marc Kielburger) has bribed his way through the judicial and police system in Kenya,” says one of Canadaland’s on-the-record sources, a man who is an admitted liar in the podcast. Not a shred of evidence backs up that claim that the Kenyan judiciary and government are corrupt. I suppose Africans are used to that kind of drive-by smear and there’s not much they can do about it. But it seems, well, ummmm, awkward, in this day and age.

The only Black people who are to be believed either work for Canadaland (i.e. the freelancer reading the script of the podcast, or former Canadaland staffer Jaren Kerr, who is now, bizarrely, the corporate law reporter at the Globe and Mail, the two admitted Kenyan liars quoted in the podcast, and a freelancer Canadaland employed in Kenya. Opinions of all other Kenyans — WE employees, Kenyan lawyers, Kenyan accountants, the country’s First Lady — are either discounted or ignored completely. (Material from Kenyans that has been ignored will be discussed later.)

The podcast seems like journalism. It has a thesis, there are interviews, there’s even a moment where the podcasters seem to try to give WE Charity’s side of the story. But it’s a nothingburger, old news based on the testimony of confessed liars. That’s not my opinion. Listen to the podcast. Both of Canadaland’s main sources admitted, at least once in the podcast, that they lied when making important official statements.

This is, essentially, a rehash of two-year-old Canadaland charges that went nowhere. At the time, Canadaland and the Africa correspondent of The Globe and Mail, stationed in Johannesburg (3,865.4 km from Nairobi, but, hey, Africa!) claimed Kenyan regulators were investigating WE’s operation with the possible outcome of WE being thrown out of Kenya.

That never happened.

Here’s what else Canadian media claimed would be official sanctions of WE that also never happened:
• The Lobbying Commissioner in Ottawa was investigating WE and would likely charge them.
• The Official Languages Commissioner was investigating WE (for supposedly not being able to deliver a youth volunteer program in French.)
• The Ethics Commissioner was investigating WE. He found no violations by WE or Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
• Police in the U.S. were supposed to be investigating a fraud complaint laid against WE Charity. Nothing came of that, either.

Maybe there was no time for the many, many reporters who tried to take WE down to do follow-ups on their speculative stories. Or maybe they are, rightly, too embarrassed to show how wrong they were.

Here’s what did happen :

The WE entities in Kenya engaged a professional accounting company, Alexanna, handling all their finances. (Alexanna was hired before Brown began his attacks on WE.)

Rosen and Associates, a Bay Street forensic accountant hired by WE, found WE’s books to be in order and its corporate entities protected from any possibility of looting or misuse of funds by the Kielburger brothers or anyone else.

Rosen found, “The mandates of (WE companie) Bogani, Minga, and Kidimu are to ‘host international volunteer trips’. Araveli For Mamas focuses upon women’s empowerment activities’. All are directly financially managed by officers in Kenya. In essence, each of these three entities (Bogani, Minga, Kidimu) were intended to be the equivalent of the Canadian ‘ME TO WE’ social enterprise concept.

“Based on my review, there is no evidence of financial malfeasance or similar financial concerns. There are proper reconciliations in place between the organizations… Our overall conclusions from our analyses are that we did not locate transactions or examples of where the Kielburger family directly benefitted financially from the various WE arrangements in Kenya.”

WE Charity also hired a former Ontario deputy solicitor general, Matt Torigian, to review the investigation process into the theft and fraud allegedly committed by the two former WE employees in Kenya, Santai Kimakeke and Peter Ruhiu (the two Kenyan men interviewed at length in the fourth episode of White Saviors, both of whom have lied to police at various times).

Torigian looked at Marc Kielburger’s role in a police investigation into these two men. His report concluded:
“By investigating the alleged wrongdoing, WE Charity Canada uncovered irregularities, proved the underlying criminality, identified those responsible, and exposed a serious risk of harm that facilitated Mr. Ruhui’s wife and children being moved to a safer environment.

“WE Charity’s engagement of a qualified and skilled third-party investigative agency, which provided advice that safeguarded people, property, and purpose, led to the result that is now before the courts in Kenya. This strategy also assisted WE Charity Canada in further protecting its assets and reputation. The advice of the third-party investigative team to proceed with caution, citing concern about the wellbeing of innocent individuals was sage. Marc Kielburger and WE Charity senior leaders were professional and reasonable in their approach to the situation and in the actions they took in response. This is particularly true with respect to Mr. Kimakeke.

“In keeping with Canadian standards, WE Charity and in particular Mr. Marc Kielburger addressed these matters appropriately by keeping the Board and local authorities apprised. They took every reasonable step consistent with expectations in Canada and most developing countries.”

A Kenyan law firm, Oraro and Co., looked at the legality of WE’s transfers of assets between two of its companies and wrote a legal opinion saying “2.1.1 Section 12 (b) of the NGO Act stipulates that a duly registered NGO is by virtue of its registration a body corporate with capacity to take, purchase or otherwise acquire, hold, charge or dispose of moveable and immovable property. 2.1.2 FTC therefore has the capacity to dispose of its movable and immovable assets as a duly registered body corporate un the NGO Act.”

Additionally, they noted, “Whereas there is nothing under the NGO Act or the Constitution of FTC preventing FTC from transferring its assets to another entity, it would be advisable that the assets be transferred to an entity with similar objectives and which performs similar functions to those of FTC.”

But that’s a Kenyan law firm. So, hey, Africa!

I wish someone in the mainstream media had the guts to play Devil’s Advocate during the pile-on that destroyed WE Charity. I feel very sad writing about this. I have conflicting emotions. I like Jesse Brown and had a great conversation with him last week, but I also believe he is stubbornly wrong. And I think it is grotesque that the Canadian political class, who once clambered over themselves to go to WE Days and to be on stage did nothing to rebut the bogus claims made against the Kielburgers. That was an appalling moral failure.

I have asked the Kielburger brothers if there was any way that assets of WE and its entities in Canada or any other country — the real estate in Toronto and elsewhere, shares in profit-making enterprises, or anything else of value — could be taken by the Kielburgers when they leave WE. They said no.

This is a question that should have been asked by the Ethics Committee. It is the first question I would ask WE if I had a senior executive as a witness.

It is, in fact, the core question.

As for the Kielburger family, whose elderly parents have been dragged into this farce, Rosen, the forensic accountant, found the value of the Kielburger parents’ loans of their Nairobi residence to support the work of WE Charity in Kenya would be equivalent to $2,293,736 USD.

“The only accurately-described ‘Kielburger private company’ is that of Kujitolea was purchased in 2006 for the Kielburger family and has provided $2,293,736 USD in rent¬free space to WE Charity in Kenya over a 14-year period based on a qualified valuation,” Rosen stated is his report.

If White Saviors was fair reporting, and truly wanted to be responsible communication of journalism on a matter of public interest, it would give these rebuttals the same prominence, at least, as the claims made on the podcast by admitted liars. A few of the rebuttals can be found in tiny text on the Canadaland web page. but are not included in the podcast. That’s hardly balanced reporting.

Through the election campaign, I have seen people tweeting about the “WE Scandal,” adding it to a list of supposed Liberal government scandals. Ask them what it is, and you usually get the online equivalent of a blank stare. Sometimes, there’s crazy talk that mixes anti-Trudeau hatred with QAnon conspiracy theory. It’s real ugly talk, completely crazy.

Like I said, we’re seeing a moral test. We are also seeing a test of whether supposedly intelligent media consumers have the critical thinking capacity to spot and reject propaganda.

A lot of people seem to be failing both of them.