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Kick ’em when they’re up, kick ’em when they’re down

My paternal grandfather was a very smart man. He was educated in an expensive Catholic boarding school, on the Quebec classical college model. Get enough rye into him, and he could recite passages of Classical literature in Latin.

But he also had some strange beliefs. For example, there were four giant grain elevators in his Georgian Bay town. It was a major trans-shipment port for western grain. Wheat came into the port on ships and was loaded onto trains or milled on the spot. Needless to say, rats on the waterfront, having an unlimited food supply and no serious predators, grew as big as rats can get before dying of natural causes or old age.

Someone once told my grandfather that you could kill a rat by hitting it on the nose with something as small as a pencil. Supposedly, rats can’t breathe through their mouths. Make their nose swell and voila!, suffocated rat. My grandfather went down to the harbour to try the pencil test. The experiment ended in tears. Though rats can cry, there were no rodent tears at the Midland freight docks that day.

A long story to make the point that intelligent people can sometimes be convinced to believe very stupid things. I am reminded of that every time I see someone praising Canadaland’s White Saviors podcast.

Leave out enough facts, and you may be able to convince the gullible, no matter how intelligent they may be, that good men are monsters.

I listened to the fifth Canadaland White Saviors podcast this morning. I found it illogical, one-side, pretentious and boring. All at the same time. The music seemed to have come from the film score of 9 1/2 Weeks. Or maybe The First 9 1/2 Weeks. Could have been Another 9 1/2 Weeks. I’ll have to check.

Now, to dissect the podcast, more out of force of habit than for any good reason.

First, the lack of logic. At the beginning of the podcast, WE Charity and ME to WE are described as being in financial trouble in 2019. Then the pandemic hits, and the charity lays off a lot of people. But, just over the half-way mark of the podcast, WE morphs again. This time, it’s criticized for closing down its Canadian operation. This charity that was supposed to be on the financial ropes months before the pandemic, and that has struggled through COVID and a political-media with hunt, is now portrayed as solvent. Then, when the government comes calling, it’s broke. But when it announces its closure, it’s criticized for being solvent.

Which is it? I guess it depends on what’s needed to make a point.

The layoffs made perfect sense, unpleasant as they might have been. WE Day planning was no longer needed. WE’s programs in schools weren’t happening. WE’s voluntourism trips died, just like the rest of the tourism industry. And, like the rest of us, WE expected COVID to ravage Africa, the same way HIV did, and they would need money to help people cope in the countries where they operated. (So far, if government and NGO reporting is accurate, Africa has been spared, but so was India in the first waves.)

Then came the disgusting witch trial in 2020, and the epic fail of the Canadian media to see it for what it was, or to even consider challenging the narrative.

How anyone expected WE to recover is utterly beyond me, especially after it became a punching bag for two of the most appalling politicians in Canada, Pierre Poilievre and Charlie Angus. Poilievre’s irresponsible railings are quoted at length in the podcast, which might help him and the Tories on election day.  As far as White Saviors go, no one can top Charlie Angus, whose riding really should be held by an Indigenous MP.

Let me work through this mess some more.

Something called Charity Intelligence is quoted in the podcast. Charity Intelligence is an organization that once lost its charitable status for failing to make regulatory filings on time. It has a staff of five, who claim to monitor the activities of more than 700 Canadian charities every year. They must work a lot of overtime. That’s about 2.5 charities every work day.

Charity Intelligence’s claims about WE Charity have been debunked quite often. Despite that, its staff has continued to engage in online campaigns against WE Charity. On September 7, 2021, it implied on Twitter that “millions” of dollars of donations to WE Charity were unaccounted for.

WE debunked Charity Intelligence’s claims at the House of Commons Ethic committee and criticized CI for its bias.

My question to Charity Intelligence: Are there any accountants on your staff? Charity Intelligence’s Director of Research, Greg Thompson, testified to the House of Commons Finance committee in 2020: “We are analysts, not auditors.”

It is difficult to tell from Charity Intelligence’s web page whether its board of directors consists of three people or six, but it is clear that two of Charity Intelligence’s employees also sit on the board. Charity Intelligence hasn’t posted an annual report since 2019.

Is WE an effective charity that does good work? Canadaland listeners who lack critical thinking skills might think so, but they have to accept a lot of hearsay and some “facts” carefully selected by Canadaland.

Canadaland has difficulty understanding what schools and institutions WE operates in Kenya. I have suggested personally to Canadaland’s owner that he travel to Kenya or send a staffer there to check, but Canadland has never done this. Nor did Canadaland publish anything from its Kenyan freelancer about WE’s Kenyan infrastructure. Either the schools (and medical facilities) exist or they do not.

In the most recent podcast, Canada acknowledged WE “recently opened their first college in Kenya,”  which you’d think would count for something, and open the door to a real discussion of WE’s work. At the end of the podcast, it’s suggested NGOs do more harm than good, that charity is no way to solve inequality. And that’s true. But in the world we live in (as opposed to the perfect world), WE Charity has educated more than 12,000 Kenyan kids every year. That is doing good.

There’s also an allegation of racism, for which the Kielburger brothers made rather groveling apologies. Amanda Maitland was hired by WE to give speeches on racism issues in Alberta. She was angered when a speech she wrote was re-written by WE staff. But here’s a simple fact: Ms Marshall was working for WE. She was free to make her speeches on her own time, and on her own dime, and say whatever she liked to whoever would listen to her. She couldn’t have it both ways: work and speak for WE, and not have input and supervision from its management.

Rather that put that simple fact to Ms. Marshall, WE hired McCarthy Tetrault LLP to investigate complaints she made at a WE staff meeting and on one of Canadaland’s many, many, many, many podcasts about WE. The law firm came up with recommendations to help WE deal with issues of race. They also reviewed a recording of the staff meeting and found that Marc Kielburger did not “shut down” Amanda Maitland. In fact. Marc Kielburger asked her to sit down with him and have a conversation, and she refused to do so.

Here’s the transcript of the relevant part of the session:

Maitland: And that’s where that culture of fear is that everyone’s having this conversation, not just the hands down [inaudible]. We’re all saying stuff it’s true. But it’s just like are we saying enough so regularly so the right people are hearing it so that we can really formulate change in the work, with the people of positions can make the changes with us.

Marc: I mean, fine. And I, look I know you know me and I’m happy to sit down with you, and have that conversation.

Maitland: Ok.

Marc: No problem. I do. I take a deep breath. I’m listening. You weren’t in my sessions. I did three, four sessions with the entire team and today’s purpose is to continue to listen.

Maitland: Mmhmm.

Marc: And so we’d like to continue to listen.

Maitland: I appreciate it.

Marc: Happy to sit down. And I also appreciate it.

Maitland: Thank you.

The White Saviors podcast tries to make the argument that WE is a racist organization. The creators of podcast should have run that theory past the senior management team.

Canadaland makes the drive-by smear that WE schools in Kenya use corporal punishment. (Are there WE schools in Kenya? They come and go so quickly from the narrative…) A Bloomberg report mentioned by Canadaland — which, again, has done literally dozens of podcasts on WE without sending any staffer to Kenya — claims this to be fact, but the accusation has never been corroborated.

WE claims it offered Bloomberg the opportunity to interview WE Charity’s Country Director for Kenya, the Director of WE Villages in Kenya, Kenyan community leaders and others with first-hand knowledge about WE’s schools in Kenya, but Bloomberg declined.

Now for the Canadian political stuff.

First, the entire “WE Scandal” starts from two false premesses that Canada’s media adopted without any serious critical thought:

  1. That Margaret Trudeau is an appendage of her son. I am sure Mrs. Trudeau is sick of being cast as some kind of puppet controlled by a man. That concept ruined her youth back in the 1970s, when sexism was much more rampant in media, and print publications were willing to print pictures taken up women’s skirts. Margaret Trudeau is a successful author, advocate for access to clean water, and proponent of openness about mental health issues long before Justin Trudeau was on the political scene.
  2. That WE Charity or some other WE entity did something wrong that resulted in it being chosen to run the proposed student volunteer grant system in the summer of 2020. In fact, no one ever showed the idea came from WE or that it lobbied for the job.

The Canadaland podcast cherry-picks dramatic sound bytes from the Commons Ethics Committee, a body that has no mandate to dig into the dealings of individuals or charities. It is not a body that gives due process. Nor does it protect the rights of people who testify. What we are hearing in the podcast are abuses of Parliamentary privilege, wild claims by two of the worst MPs on the Hill that the Kielburgers engaged in perjury (Poilievre) and that they lied about building schools (Angus).

If Angus still can’t find the schools, he can check here. If he thinks they are pictures of the same schools, he can go to Kenya and check for himself. (The lack of real research by the Ethics committee is one of the more grotesque aspects of its circus. The Parliament of Canada has enough money to send researchers or delegations to any foreign country to get facts if, indeed, its committee members are interested in the truth.)

Yet even Canadaland admits that there were no actual law enforcement investigations of perjury, fraud or any other wrongdoing alleged by the Ethics committee, the media, Canadaland or anyone else.

There’s also the claim that  WE turned evil doers and bad thinkers loose on Canadaland’s staff.

Like WE’s libel lawyer, Peter Downard (whose textbook on libel is 20 centimeters from this laptop), I do defamation lawsuits. When you take on a case, you need to know as much about your opponents as possible. In my latest case, both parties light Google up like a Christmas tree. I do the research myself. Peter Downard’s firm hires private researchers, who, in the case of Canadaland, put some names into Google.

Here is the resulting exchange on Twitter.

Read it. I think it explains a lot.

As for privacy violations, maybe Canada could devote some of its energy to telling the story of what happened to Craig Kielburger, his wife and small child when Brian Lilley of the Toronto Sun published his home address. Sun readers, in all their psycho glory, started showing up at the door.

The saddest part of the podcast concerns Reed Cowan’s anger at WE  staff for moving or changing a plaque at a school in Kenya. Cowan lost a child in an accident, and he wanted to build schools to commemorate the boy’s memory. That’s completely understandable and a noble thing to do.

But there’s something else at work here.

“None of you has lost anything. I lost a child,” Cowan said in testimony to the House of Commons Ethics committee, after calling out various celebrities for supporting WE.

Losing a child is a parent’s nightmare, but Cowan cannot lay the boy’s death at the feet of WE Charity. Cowan did good work as a fundraiser and donor, but charity is something that should be done for charity’s sake. Fifteen years ago, Cowan wanted to help children in Kenya, and he did just that. Trying to destroy a charity over misplaced plaques is not a healthy thing to do.

The Ethics committee hearings resulted in nothing, other than the destruction of work opportunities for tens of thousands of Canadian youths, publicity for Poilievre and Angus and the destruction of WE Charity. In the end, the Ethics Commissioner found WE did nothing wrong, and that Bill Morneau — one of the richest men ever to sit in the House of Commons — should have paid his own way to Kenya to visit WE development sites. His daughter, who advocates in issues in the developing word (where she was born) was a contract worker for WE,  What Canadaland doesn’t say is that Morneau and his wife, heiress to the McCain food fortune, gave hundreds of thousands to WE. They were not “making” from their connection to the charity.

There have been no investigations by the RCMP or any other Canadian police force, or by police in the U.S., or by the Canada Revenue Agency or the Internal Revenue Service. Investigators have clued into the fact that this story is a nothingburger smothered in hype sauce.

Then there’s the real estate issue.

Canadaland claimed WE is sitting on $50 million in prime real estate. Today, the Toronto Star reported almost all of it, including the headquarters and the buildings that were supposed to be renovated into a campus for social enterprise charity start-ups, was just sold for $36 million.

This strongly suggests to me that the rest of the numbers in White Saviors might be just as shaky.

(Toronto journalists really need to learn the difference between residential real estate, which has soaring prices, and commercial real estate, which is in the crapper. Yesterday, I suggested to my wife, who once ran a print shop, that we could make a lot more money if we started an “Office Space For Rent” sign company.

I have often heard the WE holdings described as “prime downtown Toronto real estate”. This is what much of it looks like:

Canadaland’s idea of “prime downtown Toronto real estate.” The building on the left is WE’s headquarters. The other buildings were supposed to be developed into a campus for incubating new social entrepreneur charity start-ups.(Google Earth)

The podcast mentions Fred and Theresa, Marc and Craig Kielburger’s parents, who are retired schoolteachers, claiming they owned $24 million in real estate by 2018, before they began to sell it off (not exactly the best time to sell, but these people are in the eighties.) It’s not clear where this number comes from, but, if it’s legit, it seems to be a decent return for 50 years of shrewd real estate investment and summers spent painting and sanding. It might have been easier for them to make their millions investing in Bitmoji, but there ya go.

Craig Kielburher is quoted on the podcast saying, “In our heart,” we’re entrepreneurs.” As though there is something wrong. Because without entrepreneurs, we might have been denied the delights of Bitmoji.

And a quote from Jesse Brown:

“No law enforcement agency opened any investigation into the WE organization. “To be very clear, it’s not that the WE Organization was cleared of criminal wrongdoing. They were never even investigated. Now there was, of course, the parliamentary investigation that did find wrongdoing – by the Trudeau government. When it came to the Kielburgers and the WE Organization it did look for a moment like they had broken federal lobbying laws, but when Parliamentarians dug into that and tried to hold the Kielburgers responsible for these dozens of unregistered meetings with public office holder, they surprised everybody. There was a loophole. Those laws prohibit unregistered lobbying from employees of organizations, and neither Craig nor Marc Kielburger are technically employees of WE Charity (by they are employees of ME to WE). They founded WE Charity. They ran WE Charity day in and day out, but neither Craig nor Mac holds an official role in that entity. They’re not executives, they’re not directors, they’re not on the board. They’re volunteers.”

That’s a pretty bizarre interpretation that ignores basic law, especially laws related to lobbying, and to fraud. The “controlling minds” of an organization, volunteers or not, can be, and are, prosecuted for any frauds they engineer. It also starts from the idea that if you’re not cleared, you may well be considered to be sorta possibly guilty. We all live with that stigma. (I am writing a book on fundamental law for journalists that will be published next year. I’ll send Canadaland a copy for their office.)

The podcast ends with someone saying, “you can be selfless and selfish at the same time!” The name of the speaker and the situation where the words were spoken is never given. It does seem like slacker talk, but I think it applies to players in this drama who are not part of WE.

I hope this dead horse is finally buried. I want Canadaland to go back to its roots and do reporting on media. I’d be happy to talk about the case of the magazine I am representing in a defamation suit launched by Ottawa’s chief of police. They could use a little solidarity. I hope the Kielburgers have long, happy lives and can continue to help people throughout the world.

And, for reading this far, dear reader, I will leave you with a song. It fits Canadaland and the media people who followed them down this rathole.