Canada PM Justin Trudeau faces probe over C$900 million charity contract

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has already been reprimanded twice by the country's ethics watchdog. PHOTO: REUTERS

OTTAWA (BLOOMBERG) - Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is facing a probe over his government's decision to award a contract worth more than C$900 million (S$926 million) to an organisation that he and his family have ties to.

The Canada Student Service Grant was awarded to the WE Charity to set up a programme that would pay students to earn funds for tuition and expenses during the pandemic as employment options dried up.

The plan was to pay students a one-time grant between C$1,000 and C$5,000 to take part in service activities.

The Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner received requests from two lawmakers this week asking that the federal watchdog examine Trudeau's conduct.

An investigation is under way, it said, adding that the Prime Minister has been informed.

The Prime Minister and his mother have appeared at a number of WE Day events, while his wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, hosts a podcast for the group called WE Well-being, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp reported.

WE Charity and the federal government announced on Friday (July 3) they were ending their partnership. WE Charity, which operates in 130 school districts and agencies, had agreed to help run the programme after being approached by officials in late April, and said it had successfully launched the programme.

It decided to withdraw amid the growing controversy, it said, adding that it would waive all costs associated with setting up the programme and plans to return all funds earmarked for it.

"We will collaborate with the Ethics Commissioner's investigation and will answer all questions he may have," Ms Ann-Clara Vaillancourt, a spokesman for Mr Trudeau, said in an e-mail.

The Prime Minister has already been reprimanded twice by the country's ethics watchdog: for a secret vacation in 2016 at the private island of the Aga Khan, a spiritual leader of Ismaili Muslims, and for breaking conflict of interest laws by pressuring his former attorney-general to help SNC-Lavalin Group Inc settle corruption charges out of court.

Conservative politician Michael Barrett said that Mr Trudeau's ties to the charity and his wife's involvement with the organisation have contravened his obligations under the Conflict of Interest Act.

"I have considered your request and am of the view that it satisfies the requirements set out in subsection 22(2) of the act," Mr Mario Dion, commissioner of the watchdog, said in a statement.

Another Member of Parliament, Mr Charlie Angus, also requested a review into Mr Trudeau's conduct on Friday.

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