Brothers Craig, foreground, and Marc Kielburger operate the various agencies surrounding WE Charity. Wikipedia

Catholic school board looks at ties to WE

  • August 16, 2020

The Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB) is looking into its long-standing relationship with WE Charity, and the trustee leading the charge expects the board to suspend its relationship with the battered charity.

Trustee Markus de Domenico expects he and his colleagues will vote to halt participation in WE Charity events and desist from endorsing the non-profit’s initiatives until all potential ethics issues are resolved. 

“From trustees, I’m receiving quite a lot of support for that,” said de Domenico. “But the vote is not until Aug. 20, so we will see what the other trustees feel. I’m feeling confident they will want us to do the right thing and do an internal report. As far as the public, I have received overwhelming support with this.”

De Domenico is pushing for the vote as controversy has emerged around WE Charity in recent weeks. The saga began on June 25 with the federal government announcing the charity would manage a $912-million Canada Student Service Grant program, a contract now voided. Issues with the charity’s close relationship with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other top Liberals has put WE under the spotlight, with multiple reports of unethical irregularities  in its operations.

De Domenico is focusing on these alleged irreularities.

“I’m not focusing my work for the board on the political Liberal versus Conservative versus NDP or the situation with the prime minister or (Minister of Finance) Bill Morneau — I’m not interested in that part of it. What I am interested in is if our board is involved in ethical charities. I think we need to be sure they are ethical.”

De Domenico admits his knowledge about the relationship between TCDSB and WE Charity is “anecdotal” at this stage, but the aim of an internal report is examining the relationship. He already has a sense that the TCDSB “has a pretty big footprint with this charity.”

Speaking to Catholic educators in Ontario about how students are affected by WE Charity events and endeavours will be a significant component of this potential audit.

One of the great champions of WE Charity is Nadia Vita-Ciccerani, a longtime teacher at St. Monica Catholic Elementary School in Markham, Ont. Vita-Ciccerani has accompanied her students to many WE Day celebrations and collaborated with her pupils on fundraisers for the charity.

Vita-Ciccerani says many of her students return from WE Day with an increased desire to help others.

“WE Day is a giant concert for social change. The speakers talk about important issues such as mental health, disability awareness, girls’ equality and empowerment in general. I find that the students that I take always feel so empowered and inspired to make a change,” she said.

She’s also witnessed firsthand the work WE Charity does in less fortunate countries. She travelled to Kenya in the summer of 2009 to support WE Charity — then known as Free the Children — in building a school.

“I’ll never forget meeting the Kenyan people and seeing the joy in their faces when they knew we were there to help them. It was sheer, abundant joy. I just cry thinking about it because it is so beautiful.”

Vita-Ciccerani hopes it will be possible for schools across Canada to support WE Charity causes in the future. “I truly hope we can make it work so we can continue to do the work that WE Charity puts out there. I’m a huge supporter, so I hope that this issue can be resolved in some way.”

De Domenico is comfortable with the affiliation continuing if a review finds the relationship is solid.

“If it all comes out that everything is good, on the up-and-up and there isn’t any impropriety, then of course. The concept of what (WE Charity) is doing is fantastic, but there are many questions, and we need to get them answered before we continue our involvement.”

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