Canada's Trudeau again caught in political firestorm
For the third time in as many years, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Friday found himself at the center of a political firestorm -- this time over the awarding of a lucrative government contract to a charity that also paid hefty sums to his family members.
Canada's Conservative opposition has demanded a police investigation to uncover whether fraud was committed in the granting of the nearly billion-dollar contract to WE Charity.
The organization has admitted paying nearly CAN $300,000 (US$220,000) to Trudeau's mother, brother and wife for speaking engagements.
And Trudeau himself admitted to taking part in negotiations with the charity over the contract.
WE Charity has said it was withdrawing from the $900 million federal program, which provides grants of up to $5,000 to eligible students for volunteer work with non-profit organizations during the coronavirus pandemic.
"We know that there are significant financial benefits that have been received by the family of the prime minister," Conservative lawmaker Michael Barrett told reporters.
"It's very clear there is sufficient grounds for this matter to be investigated by the police," he added.
"We have a sole-source contract worth a billion dollars, a program that was created out of thin air," Barrett said.
The country's ethics watchdog said last week that it had launched a probe into the 48-year-old prime minister, after the contract was awarded to the charity in June.
The charity paid his mother Margaret $250,000 for speeches at 28 events between 2016 and 2020, according to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).
WE Charity also paid Justin Trudeau's brother Alexandre $32,000 for his participation in eight events, the CBC reported.
And the prime minister's office confirmed that Trudeau's wife Sophie "received $1,500" for participating in a WE event in 2012, before he took over the leadership of the Liberal Party.
"The Prime Minister's relatives engage with a variety of organizations and support many personal causes on their own accord," Trudeau's office said in a press release Thursday.
"What is important to remember here is that this is about a charity supporting students."
But just a day before, Trudeau's office said that neither he nor his wife had ever received payment for appearing at events hosted by non-governmental organizations.
Canadian media also reported that a daughter of Finance Minister Bill Morneau received payments from WE Charity.
The Conservative Party says the existing ethics probe is insufficient, given the new revelations about the sums paid to the Trudeau family before the contract was awarded.
"It's not just a conflict of interest. It's much more serious than that," said Conservative lawmaker Pierre Poilievre.
He asked federal police to investigate whether there had been violations of laws regulating "frauds on government."
The Bloc Quebecois party asked Trudeau to step aside while the investigation is ongoing, and allow his deputy to fulfill his duties.
"The nature of the allegations, the significant sums involved, the apparent flagrant conflict of interest, the possibility that a criminal inquiry could follow on this matter make it impossible for the prime minister to do his job," said party chief Yves-Francois Blanchet.
The ethics commissioner has already released two reports concluding that Trudeau violated the Conflict of Interest Act: in 2017, for taking a vacation on the Aga Khan's private island, and last year for trying to influence legal proceedings in the SNC-Lavalin case, in which a subsidiary of the engineering company was accused of paying bribes to secure contracts in Libya.