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Justin Trudeau’s Billion-Dollar Scandal Is a Story of Power, Branding, and Charity

Vice

July 22, 2020

By Justin Ling

 

“In Justin Trudeau, WE Charity had a prominent booster. In WE, Justin Trudeau had a powerful platform popular with young people.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (right) along with WE co-founders, Craig (middle) and Marc Kielburger, WE Day Ottawa, November 9, 2016. MARKETWIRED PHOTO/WE Day

 

It’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s summer scandal. He and his finance minister are under investigation from an ethics watchdog. Two Parliamentary committees have started investigating the affair and Trudeau will testify.

In the middle of it all is a $912 million contract, awarded without competition to the Canadian-founded WE Charity, a household name thanks to a powerful origin story that has morphed into a huge youth-oriented movement with celebrities like Meghan Markle and Prince Harry attached.

It’s an organization with close ties to the prime minister himself. The scandal unfurled as it was revealed Trudeau’s own family received large speaking fees from the organization and while Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s daughter worked at the charity.

“I made a mistake in not recusing myself,” Trudeau said.

Trudeau himself announced the Canada Student Service Grant program, which would award grants to students and youth for doing volunteer work amid the economic slowdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. WE would have earned between $19.5 million and $43.5 million for just running the program. WE has already withdrawn from its government contract with a promise to “return to its roots” of international development.

From the outside, it may seem like a very Canadian scandal: Money for a charity stymied by an alleged ethical lapse caused, in part, by the prime minister’s famous mother being paid to speak to legions of teens.

Dig a little deeper, and this scandal, Trudeau’s third such ethics investigation, says an awful lot about both his government and the WE organization.

VICE News reviewed hundreds of financial disclosure documents and internal presentation decks, consulted a forensic accountant regarding WE’s books, and spoke to several past employees about how the charity—and its less-understood corporate arm—does business.

As VICE News started asking questions about WE’s financials, WE announced it would be reorienting its charity and business divisions, acknowledging that its years of rapid expansion has led to a “organizational structure that is more complicated than it needs to be.”

At the centre of this scandal is the story of WE, a unique charitable-corporate hybrid, and its symbiotic relationship with the prime minister.

Friends in high places

The WE Charity origin story is the stuff of legend. A 12-year-old Craig Kielburger, per the WE account, was flipping through a newspaper in 1995 in search of the comics. He happened upon an article about a 12-year-old Pakistani labour rights activist, Iqbal Masih, who had been murdered.

“Craig convinced a handful of Grade 7 classmates that together they could make an impact, and WE Charity was born,” WE writes on their website. Soon, his older brother Marc was in on the family charitable business.

They called the organization Free the Children (it would be renamed WE Charity in 2016), and they set out to do the kind of altruistic development that was du jour in the late 1990s—building wells, schools, and clinics for the underprivileged in the Global South. On a tour of East Asia, Craig would cross paths with then-prime minister Jean Chretien, whom he challenged to take a stand against child slavery.

The inspiring story drove international attention, and donations. But international development is a saturated market—Oxfam, Unicef, World Vision, and a host of others have been doing this work for decades.

The Kielburgers pioneered a new way of financing their charitable efforts: ME to WE Social Enterprises. It would be, according to their website, “a new model to support the long-term charitable goals of WE Charity.” This related corporate entity would organize trips, sell sustainably made goods, run events, and donate much of its profits back to WE Charity.

For about $5,000, students could fly to various destinations in Central and South America, Africa, and South Asia and stay at WE ranches and facilities. The trips mixed the air of a sleepaway camp, focusing on team building and leadership, while also offering day trips where students would contribute to building schools or wells. WE would eventually start offering corporate retreats as well.

Those trips faced criticism familiar to other so-called “voluntourism” organizations—that poorer communities need investment and opportunity, not privileged children from North America and Europe to contribute their unskilled labour. WE brushed the criticism aside. “When done properly and in partnership with communities, trips can be beneficial,” its executive director once wrote.

ME to WE expanded to run WE Day, which blends stadium-sized motivational speaking tours with the vibe of a children’s day camp. Celebrity cameos have included Kendrick Lamar, the Dalai Lama, Martin Sheen and Al Gore. ME to WE opened shops, selling sustainably made goods. It opened WE Schools, which provided slickly made, development-minded curricula to teachers.

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An internal WE document.

 

WE’s stock rose steadily through the 2000s and early 2010s, and it incorporated its charity-corporate model in the United States and United Kingdom. Both Kielburgers were awarded the Order of Canada. It published books with contributions from Richard Gere and Oprah. 60 Minutes profiled the brothers.

The organization is not outwardly political. Its U.K. board of directors boasts a Liberal Democrat lord and a Conservative Member of Parliament. But in Justin Trudeau, it had an early champion. He appeared at the first-ever WE Day in 2007, when he was running for Parliament for the first time. He appeared again after he was elected in 2008, per a list compiled by iPolitics.

Just days after he spoke at WE Day Toronto 2012, Trudeau launched his bid to lead the Liberal Party of Canada. Craig Kielburger contributed $1,200, the maximum allowed, to Trudeau’s campaign.

When he became prime minister in 2015, one of Trudeau’s first public events was WE Day Ottawa.

Trudeau wasn’t the only one in the family joining WE Day. Trudeau’s partner, Sophie; mother, Margaret; and brother, Sacha, all spoke at various WE Days. Sophie Grégoire Trudeau even co-hosted a WE podcast. Canadaland and CBC reported that Me to We paid $312,000 for Margaret Trudeau’s appearances, and $40,000 for eight engagements with Sacha Trudeau. The prime minister was, according to the government, not paid for any of his appearances.

As Trudeau’s family became functional ambassadors for the organization, the government of Canada began an enthusiastic WE partnership.

Before his election, Ottawa had paid less than a million dollars in grants to WE. After Trudeau assumed office, that changed.

In 2016, Heritage Canada awarded WE Charity $1.5 million to participate in the lead-up to Canada’s 150th anniversary, as part of a program to “commemorate and celebrate historical figures, places, events, and accomplishments of national significance.” As part of that program, WE put out a video prominently featuring the prime minister himself.

VICE News asked if any Government of Canada money was spent on that ad. WE said it didn’t know.

“We are getting a significant number of requests from media at this time,” a spokesperson said. “While we remain committed to providing as much information as possible, we are still in the process of gathering and reviewing our internal records of contracts of years past in order to fully cooperate with various inquiries from official sources to which we are legally required to respond.”

When Canada Day rolled around, the Kielburger brothers were featured heavily at the Parliament Hill celebrations. Days later, at the WE-branded celebrations, Trudeau graced the stage.

Ottawa offered WE Charity non-competitive and sole-sourced contracts, too, for “management consulting” or “public relations services.”

Overall, the Government of Canada paid WE Charity and ME to WE more than $5.8 million.

On Wednesday, Finance Minister Morneau told a House of Commons committee that he and his family accepted invitations by WE to visit their high-end camps in Kenya and Ecuador. There, they lent a hand in building nearby schools. While the committee seized on some $40,000 in expenses that Morneau did not reimburse WE for, the trips say so much more about just how close WE and the Trudeau government really are.

A cash flow crunch

As WE became a household name for many, its finances showed signs it had expanded too fast.

In 2017, the Canadian arm of WE Charity posted a $3.8 million surplus, thanks to more than $45 million in annual donations and $10 million in private grants.

By 2019, though, the charity fell into the red, according to WE Charity’s unpublished audited financial statements provided to VICE News. Donations and grants stayed mostly flat, but spending rose rapidly. The charity posted a $2.3 million deficit, plus an additional $4 million in bank loans.

That has all the hallmarks of a “cash flow crunch,” says Kate Bahen, the managing director of Charity Intelligence, an organization devoted to analyzing the financials of Canadian charities. She obtained and analyzed WE Charity’s 2019 financial statements.

The Government of Canada was there to help, however. Three days after the WE Charity fiscal period ended in September 2019, Employment and Social Development Canada awarded it a $3 million grant.

It was the biggest contribution from the Canadian government to WE up to that point.

WE disagrees there was an issue with its finances. “WE is not experiencing a cash flow problem and it would be incorrect to say so,” a spokesperson said.

The spokesperson told VICE News that part of the problem came from WE’s own decision to shift its fiscal year. Until 2013, WE ended its fiscal year in March; then it moved to December; and finally, in 2018, it took the unusual step to align with the academic year, ending in August.

Bahen calls the frequency of that change “highly irregular.” WE acknowledges it makes it impossible to compare one year to the next—in 2018, WE posted a $400,000 deficit, but only over eight months, not 12.

WE says that, because of the shift in fiscal year, some $21 million in donations had to be deferred “from one fiscal year to another, to account for the fiscal year in which the program would occur,” the spokesperson explained. “Because of these larger deferrals, we had…run a deficit, on paper, in 2018 and 2019.”

The deficit was due to the fiscal year shift, they said, “not because of the financial health of the organization.”

Yet the shift happened in 2018. The 2019 year was a full 12 months. It’s not clear why WE would have to keep deferring revenue.

WE says the decision to shift the fiscal year was a decision taken by the board of directors. That board is now mostly gone.

Michelle Douglas, the former chair of WE Charity’s board, left earlier this year. In April, she tweeted skepticism of WE’s accounting of its impact abroad.

Of the 15 directors who sat on the boards of the Charity’s Canadian and American arms in 2018, just four remain. WE has told CBC that the new board was selected to “address issues such as diversity, inclusion, and range of competencies.” Douglas, a former member of the Canadian Forces who was purged from the ranks due to her sexuality, said most of the board had resigned or been replaced. The new chair of the Canadian board is Greg Rogers, formerly with Toronto Catholic District School Board.

Even with its back-to-back deficits, WE is not about to go bankrupt. Part of the financial health of the organization is its real estate holdings, totalling nearly $50 million across North America, including a sprawling Arizona ranch and a much-celebrated, newly-renovated office in Toronto’s Corktown, where it plans to keep expanding. Abroad, WE owns a constellation of properties through local corporations.

“All real estate purchases were made possible by targeted gifts from donors who believed that owning its own facilities would make WE more sustainable and effective in the long term,” WE wrote to VICE News. On top of savings on rent, WE says it serves as a nest egg that provides “long-term financial stability and a value fiscal reserve to underpin its operations.”

Several of those properties, however, still carry mortgages. Those mortgages require that WE maintains enough profit to comfortably cover the payments. (“One of the covenants of the mortgage provisions is that WE Charity generates positive EBITDA [Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization] to cover 1.3 times the mortgage payments in the fiscal year,” WE wrote.)

WE failed to meet that condition in both 2018 and 2019, and had to seek a specific waiver to avoid breaching their mortgage agreements.

“If our fiscal year end was either October 31 or December 31, this would not have been an issue; there would have been no ‘deficit’ and/or need for a waiver,” WE said. “This was simply an operational decision that we made consciously and still support.”

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An internal WE powerpoint slide.

 

This was all before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Real estate values took a beating, international travel was shut down, and WE Day 2020, a massive revenue source for the organization, was cancelled. Sources told the Toronto Star that donations had slowed significantly, and WE started mass layoffs.

In April, a lifeline appeared. The Trudeau government was looking to incentivize volunteer work for students who may have lost jobs and internships due to the global pandemic—the Canada Student Service Grant would award them between $1,000 and $5,000.

Exactly who proposed WE to run the program is still a matter of debate. Trudeau says it was the bureaucracy who suggested the organization administer the program. WE initially suggested it was Trudeau’s office who first offered them the contract, but later recanted that story.

Privy Council Clerk Ian Shugart, the head of Canada’s civil service, told a parliamentary committee Tuesday that the government did not kick the tires on WE’s financials before awarding them the contract. “To the best of my knowledge, officials did not engage in detailed scrutiny of the financial affairs of the organization,” he said. “No financial flags were raised through this process about the WE Charity.”

WE would have received between $19.5 million and $43.5 million of the $912 million program, which would have gone a long way towards addressing their increasing debt load and decline in donations.

The willingness to go with WE is curious. The organization encourages volunteer work, through WE Schools and WE Day, but largely by encouraging students to organize and execute work on their own. Many other charities like Kiwanis, the Lion’s Club, and Volunteer Canada all either link up with local organizations or have existing infrastructure in communities and schools.

WE’s power, however, is in the branding.

‘We brought them to WE Day’

A page of WE’s website, advertising Marc Kielburger as a paid speaker, touts his insights into “purposeful and profitable business strategies.” The page, which has since been updated to remove that language, boasts that Marc can help teach strategies to “inspire brand fanatics to stay loyal to you, your company, and your cause (and) add a halo effect to your product.”

That halo effect is core to WE’s strategy.

WE lets its partners co-brand international development projects, grace the stage at the ebullient WE Day celebrations, and even help craft school curricula. All for a fee.

The corporate arm of WE does not proactively publish corporate financial information. But internal PowerPoint presentations provided by a former employee reveal that by summer 2017, ME to WE boasted some 206 active partnerships with an annual revenue of $47.5 million.

Of hundreds of sponsors, just 20 large sponsors comprised nearly 90 percent of ME to WE’s revenue, including insurance vendor Allstate, RBC bank, movie chain Cineplex, Microsoft, accounting firm KPMG, and resource companies PotashCorp and Teck Resources.

WE insists WE Day and WE Schools are empowering and educational. To potential sponsors, however, WE is pretty blunt that it offers a big branding opportunity.

In an internal pitch presentation, WE said its youth-oriented programs “improve partners’ brand reputation particularly by increasing consumer perception of partners’ investment in their local community.” WE further suggested that partnerships “can drive consumer exploration, consideration, and purchase of products and services.”

Internal polling of students and parents about its corporate-branded in-school programs bragged that “60 percent of (WE) teens spoke positively about the company with their parents.”

The internal polling suggests that WE Schools and WE Day also pushed teens to complete a “social action”—such as “connected with an Allstate agent in my community,” “bought a Surface [tablet] or other Microsoft product,” and “used Skype”—yet most had no clear social component whatsoever. The only non-corporate examples listed were “learned more about computer science and coding” and “took action to live more sustainably (i.e., conserving water, reducing waste).”

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An internal WE document.

 

WE’s programs are present in some 18,000 schools throughout North America. WE Day, meanwhile, engrossed attendees with its high production value, socially conscious messaging, and big-name guests.

“Any time I wanted to sign a new company, we brought them to WE Day,” a former employee told Canadaland last year, for a series of stories about WE’s corporate partnerships and its work in schools across North America. (Disclosure: I contributed some reporting and editing to Canadaland on those stories, and am relying on some of the information I learned for this story.)

The corporate branding is obvious, however.

At WE Days, students may watch short documentaries about their corporate sponsors. One video played at WE Day 2017 showed a student shopping at a Walgreens, encouraging her peers to purchase WE-branded goods at the retail giant. WE Day Montreal this year was co-branded by seven companies, including KPMG and steakhouse chain The Keg.

These partnerships aren’t cheap.

A pitch deck prepared for household goods company Unilever suggested partnerships starting at $800,000 to get co-branding at WE Schools, with add-ons that could have brought the total value of the deal to more than $4 million. For that money, Unilever would get a six-minute onstage segment at WE Day New York, involvement in a national schools speaking tour, which allows for “exposure to the full student body,” and a redrafting of the WE Schools program to ensure a “stronger tie-in to (Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan).”

Some partners are more controversial than others.

“WE Charity has a policy to carefully review potential corporate funders,” a spokesperson said. Resource extraction companies for example, “provide critical inputs for global industries such as food production and infrastructure development.”

Canadian oil sands company Teck Resources contributed $400,000 to ME to WE in 2017 that helped buy a national battery recycling program in Canadian schools.

PotashCorp, a resource extraction company and former Crown corporation, was a sponsor of WE for five years, contributing $1 million in 2017 alone. This, even as the company faced criticism for extracting hundreds of millions of dollars of natural resources in occupied Western Sahara. “We do not see how the association with a company that aids and abets in the occupation of Western Sahara, resulting in tremendous human suffering, relates to the views and values of Free the Children,” reads a 2013 letter from the Western Sahara Resource Watch. PotashCorp and WE remained partners until the company merged with a rival in 2017.

WE says its partnership with PotashCorp “enabled farmers in developing countries to provide 15 million meals.”

WE also partnered with Dow Chemical to help middle and high school students “develop solutions to the world’s largest sustainability issues.” The curriculum prepared by WE suggests teachers ask students questions like, “How do Dow scientists approach problems?”

WE told VICE News that Dow is “ranked as one of the top companies in terms of sustainability performance,” pointing to the fact that it was listed as part of the Dow Jones Sustainability World Index for the 20th year.

The U.S. arm of WE Charity raised $5.3 million from Valeant Pharmaceuticals—now Bausch Health—seemingly in support of the Passion to Heal program, which sent American dermatologists to Kenya and India to provide skincare to those in need. The program came just after Valeant was accused of inflating drug prices by as much as 3,000 percent, and just before its executives were being charged with running a sprawling fraud scheme.

These PowerPoints themselves note the “challenges” present in their corporate relationships: The list included “sacrifices to WE program integrity.”

Last week, the company announced that WE Schools would shift to a “digital-only format.”

A corporate web

For its ingenious model of charitable giving, WE’s labyrinthine corporate structure makes it a difficult organization to untangle. When you begin pulling it apart, questions remain over just how effective an organization it truly is.

The organization’s own material suggests the structure is simple: There’s the charity, WE Charity, and there’s the company, ME to WE. Yet even WE has a hard time telling them apart. It strenuously denied that WE Charity had ever paid Margaret Trudeau for her speaking engagements, only to later admit it had cut her a $7,500 cheque in 2017. WE says it was an accounting error.

On Wednesday, Global News revealed that the Canada Student Service Grant contract was actually awarded to the WE Charity Foundation, not WE Charity itself. It’s not clear why the Foundation was incorporated at all, aside from an oblique reference in a 2018 financial statement about its goal “to promote the efficiency and effectiveness of other registered charities by providing and maintaining facilities to house their operations.” Global has reported it is primarily used to hold real estate.

ME to WE, meanwhile, is actually owned by a holding company, and it, in turn, owns five subsidiaries that run various aspects of its business.

Its Russian nesting doll structure aside, ME to We claims that, by donating 90 percent of its profit—$9.4 million between 2016 and 2019, WE says—it finances WE Charity’s important work.

Drill down on those numbers, however, and it’s not so clear-cut.

For starters, lots of money flows in the opposite direction. The charity actually paid its corporate arm $7 million over those three years. WE says it’s “largely due to an increase in donor trips, which resulted in a significant increase in donations to WE Charity.”

It means that the net transfer of funds between ME to WE to WE Charity over those three years is closer to $2 million.

What’s more, not all that money is cash contributions. In 2019, WE Charity reported nearly $5 million in contributions from ME to WE. Of that, more than $3.5 million is in-kind donations, such as “travel and leadership training services,” promotional goods, rent, and the purchase of books. ME to WE sells these things to WE Charity “at or below wholesale prices.” WE reports the dollar value of those goods and services.

WE insists that focusing on those figures is incorrect. “The holistic social good created by ME to WE Social Enterprise is clear,” a spokesperson said. At the same time, as Bahen notes, “ME to WE overstates how much it contributes to WE Charity.”

According to a libel notice sent to Canadaland, WE has said the reason for ME to WE is “due to the structure of the Canadian tax code limiting the ability of charities or foundations to engage in commercial enterprises to raise funds for their cause.”

Yet, in the U.S., ME to WE is also a registered charity. It’s called the ME to WE Foundation. (Not to be confused with the Canadian ME to WE Foundation, or the WE Charity Foundation.)

It’s not clear what differentiates the two U.S. entities. The U.S. WE Charity reports $33 million in revenue, and its audited financial statements are posted to the WE website; while the U.S. ME to WE Foundation reports some $10 million, and its financials are not posted. Both share significant overlap in their mandate and donors. Victor Li, WE Charity’s chief financial officer, is a director of both charities.

WE says the foundation is responsible for “domestic WE Schools & WE Day activities supporting student service-learning programs in schools and International development activities to support education, clean water, healthcare, food security, and alternative income programs.”

The foundation reports very little overseas spending.

Garbage bag company Glad announced in 2018 that anyone using its chosen hashtag or buying specific trash bags would “trigger a donation to WE Charity,” capped at $315,000. Yet according to contracts filed with state regulators and obtained by VICE News, the funds were paid to the ME to WE Foundation, not WE Charity.

WE insists that “the ME to WE Foundation has helped to provide millions of dollars of funding to WE Charity over the years.”

Yet, over the most recent two years for which there is information, it was WE Charity that made a huge contribution to the ME to WE Foundation. The charity gave nearly $400,000 to the foundation in 2016 and another $1.25 million in 2017, while only $100,000 in contributions from the foundation to the charity were reported over the same time.

So much of WE’s branding is wrapped up with its overseas work. Yet, in recent years, WE’s Canadian and U.S. charities reported that just about a third of their overall spending went to international development—about $35 million, including administrative costs.

Still, WE’s holistic vision for international development—which includes funding clean water, food security, education, healthcare, and economic opportunity—has done good abroad. It has even attracted other, smaller, charities.

In its 2017 financial statements, WE Charity reported it, by mutual agreement, “took control” of Imagine 1 Day, another charity “providing children in Ethiopia with access to quality education.” As part of the agreement, WE Charity received $10 million from the organization, with the stipulation that “the amount transferred is to be used towards initiatives in Ethiopia.”

Normally, such a transfer would be considered a “restricted” donation—meaning the contribution could only be used for a specific purpose for which it was gifted. That’s how WE accepts its real estate gifts.

The $10 million however, was included in a general line item on the charity’s financial statements as unrestricted contributions.

Per its financial disclosures and statement to VICE News, some $6.8 million of Imagine 1 Day’s assets have been absorbed into WE Charity to date. But not all of that money has gone to Ethiopia.

“$4.2 million has been spent in support of projects and programming in Ethiopia, $1.2 million has been transferred back to Imagine1Day for targeted core operations, and $1.4 million has been spent on WE Charity’s support and integration of Ethiopia into WE,” a spokesperson said. That last figure has included staff salaries in Canada “to manage program and project design support, monitoring and evaluation, and other management expenses.” It has also covered travel costs between Ethiopia to Toronto.

Asking tough questions of WE

WE, like any multi-million dollar charitable organization, especially one that benefits from tax-exempt status, deserves scrutiny.

In 2019, Canadaland did exactly that. It asked questions about WE’s corporate partners, its education programming, and allegations that it has a “toxic” workplace culture. WE provided lengthy responses to those questions, but also started proceedings to sue the media company for libel in litigant-friendly Manitoba.

Part of the claim sent by WE’s lawyers to Canadaland alleges the company showed malice “by misrepresenting our clients as litigious.” (WE had previously sued now-defunct Saturday Night magazine, which settled in 2000.)

WE has, this week, demanded an apology from Postmedia News and Toronto Sun columnist Brian Lilley, after they ran a series of stories taking a critical look at WE’s real estate holdings.

Even Bahen, who has delved deep into WE’s financials, has earned herself a threatening letter from WE. “We are respectfully asking you to please stop making incorrect, misleading, and incomplete statements when we have repeatedly provided you with accurate information,” reads the letter.

When VICE News sent multiple requests for comment to WE, it initially heard back from their lawyer, Howard Winkler, demanding that “you disclose to our clients for response any purported statements of fact or allegations you intend to publish of and concerning them which contain a negative innuendo.” Later, it provided lengthy and detailed responses to VICE News’ questions.

After Canadaland ran critical stories about WE, including its attempt to discourage critical coverage, curious campaigns to discredit the news outlet sprang up.

Op-eds popped up in U.S. publications, calling Canadaland “fake news.” Around the same time, a deluge of tweets, all with similar messages, poured in from a slew of accounts. (Those accounts are all now suspended for violating Twitter’s rules.) Some of this campaign appeared to be linked to a Republican consulting firm, according to Canadaland.

Private investigators, hired by one of WE’s law firms, also conducted background checks on Canadaland publisher Jesse Brown and reporter Jaren Kerr, according to the outlet.

VICE News asked WE if it ever paid for positive news coverage or social media campaigns to target its critics. WE came back, asking for specific examples, “as we are unclear and require context,” a spokesperson wrote. VICE News tried again, asking pointedly if WE had ever paid writers to pen columns or editorials without disclosing their funding, or if it had ever run an “astroturf” campaign using social media bots or fake accounts.

WE refused to answer. “WE Charity has engaged several leading companies to help with communication over the years,” a spokesperson wrote. “WE Charity has sought further clarification and/or any examples regarding this question without success. If there are specific examples of note, we would be pleased to respond and provide context.”

A friend in need is a friend, indeed

From its inception, WE has worked hard to cultivate an ethos around itself. To great effect, it has parlayed its commitment to international development, volunteerism, and social awareness. In the process, it has brought onboard an array of multi-billion dollar partners to finance its operations.

At its core, WE offered brands a chance to tap into a network of hyper-engaged, well-intentioned youth. The Faustian bargain meant that WE’s millions in donations would build clinics and schools half a world away, in exchange for advertising products and services to a captive, and otherwise difficult to reach, audience.

Allstate and Dow Chemical couldn’t otherwise tell schoolchildren of their community programs or sustainability efforts. Even if they could, there is little chance the students would much care.

WE is a perfect vehicle for exactly that kind of work.

Justin Trudeau understood that. His commitment to volunteering is undeniable, dating back to his time with youth program Katimavik. Equally undeniable is his mastery at winning over young voters, or soon-to-be voters. The 18-to-34 voting block is the only one Trudeau managed to carry in both his 2015 and 2019 electoral victories, according to pollster Ipsos.

This story is not about who got rich. It’s about how an organization that has been integral to the prime minister’s personal brand was selected for a program that it did not appear to be best-suited to run, even amid serious questions over its own financial structure and corporate practises.

Next week, the Kielburger brothers are expected to testify before a House of Commons committee.

Shortly after this story was published, Trudeau agreed to testify as well.

 

[“Justin Ling is an investigative journalist who has worked across the country, focusing on stories and issues undercovered or misunderstood. For the past year, he has been covering the investigation into Bruce McArthur. His forthcoming book on the case will be published by McClelland & Stewart in early 2020.?”]

Additional research: An extensive thread on WE by Cory Morningstar, Wrong Kind of Green:

Vaccines, Blockchain and Bio-capitalism

Vaccines, Blockchain and Bio-capitalism

Wrench in the Gears

April 19, 2020

By Alison McDowell

 

Source of featured image here.

Vaccine Markets

Pay for success finance deals will be well served by the global vaccine market that is being advanced through Gates’s outfit GAVI.  Vaccine doses are readily quantifiable, and the economic costs of many illnesses are straightforward to calculate. With a few strategic grants awarded to prestigious universities and think tanks, I anticipate suitable equations framing out a healthy ROI (return on investment) will be devised to meet global market demands shortly.

Over the past month, the gaze of investigative researchers has been fixed on GAVI, Bill Gates, Gates’s associates like Fauci, and the over-size influence they are having on public health policy around Covid-19.  Use the link for the map to dig further into the relationships. The members of the 2012 Development Impact Bond (DIB) Working Group Report are of particular interest, since DIBs are being considered as a way to finance vaccination campaigns.

Among them:

Toby Eccles, Founder of Social Finance and developer of the social Impact Bond

Owen Barder, Former Economic Aide to Tony Blair, UK AID

Elizabeth Littlefield, JP Morgan, World Bank, OPIC, US Impact Investing Alliance

Vineet Bewtra, Lehman Brothers, Deutsche Bank, Omidyar Network

Bob Annibale, CitiGroup Community Development

Chris Egerton Warburton, Goldman Sachs, Lions Head Partners

Rebecca Endean, UK Research and Innovation

Kippy Joseph, Rockefeller Foundation, International Development Innovation Alliance

Oliver Sabot, Absolute Return On Kids (ARK, UK Charter School), The Global Fund

Steven Pierce, USAID

Public health is a servant of bond markets and financiers. A glance at the participants in this working group makes it clear, doses and people and death and suffering are just going to be part of their market analysis. For too many people, openly discussing concerns about vaccines remains a third-rail. But we DO have to learn how to talk about this to one another, because the stakes are too damn high to shy away from it. I also believe these campaigns and the tracking systems associated with them have been structured as an imperial enterprise and should be treated with profound caution.

Interactive version of Fauci / Gates map viewable here.

The World Bank started promoting the use of Blockchain to track vaccine supplies as early as 2017, the same year they got into the pandemic bond business.

More on that here.

There is an elegant, if twisted, logic in melding vaccine supply chain tracking with blockchain digital identity / health passports. Not unlike Palantir’s “philanthropic” endeavors around human trafficking. The ultimate goal of the cloud bosses is to be able to track everyone all the time – Tolkien’s all-seeing eye. To be able to lay down the infrastructure of digital oppression while being lauded for humanitarian efforts will be quite a coup if they pull it off.

So you have the vaccine tracked on blockchain. You have the quantum dot tattoos (health data bar codes) ready to go. You have the capacity to pressure people into setting up digital health passports linked to their electronic health record (thanks Obama). It makes perfect sense that it would all be linked together.

Fracking Humanity

Total quality management, systems engineering, where the cellular structures of entire communities are unlocked and remade for profit. When I was doing my work into ed-tech, I described the process of data-mining as fracking the minds of children. This is the same thing, but in a medical context-fracking our DNA.

Fracking

Creating an immutable record of doses linked to specific individuals, means investors can assess the “impact” of inoculation(s) they fund and take their profit. On Blockchain this will be made possible using MIT’s Enigma software, which protects “privacy” even as it mines cellular structure for “impact” and turns people into GMOs. Something I’ve had growing concerns about in recent weeks is knowing the Gates-backed initiatives involve the use of mRNA platforms. Moderna is one of them, and they tout their vaccine system as the “software of life.”

Source

So we know that pay for success relies on MEASURABLE change. We also know these platforms use synthetic biology to re-engineer humans at the molecular level. Precision medicine, while a valuable tool to use against inoperable tumors, could become a huge problem if tweaking our biomes at the population level to suit the whims of global financial markets is normalized. Genetic engineering tied to quarterly returns – now that would be grotesque.

Besides, our country has a nasty history of eugenics and unethical scientific experimentation. What protections are in place to keep “pay for performance” contracts and vaccines from being used to justify “fixing” people that the market deems “sub-standard” from a human capital investment point of view? It is not such a jump from taking an impact payment for preventing a projected future illness to genetic modification for more insidious purposes.

We are being conditioned to accept that there will be repeated campaigns of vaccination tied to future outbreaks. Remember, this is meant to be a “permanent crisis.” Pay for success demands it. It is the crisis framework that legitimizes intrusive surveillance framed as a public benefit. In this way social systems can be regulated to conform to the expectations of global technocrats.

Supply Chain Tracking

Gates also funded the development of quantum dot vaccine tattoos by MIT, which act as health data bar codes viewable under certain lighting conditions. This nanotechnology is used for such diverse purposes as solar power and device displays. One of the companies developing electronic health records that are compatible with quantum dot data tattoo systems is Quantum Materials out of San Marcos, Texas. Their system runs on Azure, Microsoft’s cloud computing system.

Source

Now imagine Gates-affiliated entities profiting first from vaccine bonds, then from vaccine development,  from the cloud computing software tracking the data and documenting the impact, and finally from returns on the pay for success deals.

Meanwhile, the public, those who are actually supposed to be served by health policy, are instead used to generate impact data. This results in healthcare services being platformed, automated, and dehumanized. People will start to lose their humanity, seen only as data, veering into trans-humanist territory after repeated system upgrades.

Interactive version of the QDX Health ID map accessible here.

We can see the mounting toll of the pandemic as hospital systems have started to furlough workers, in the midst of this health emergency. As a consequence, I expect we will soon see human staff reductions, and the roll out of tele-presence medical robots, and more and more doctors on screens where they can operate at a “safe” distance, never needing a mask or to even touch their patient. It is hard to believe this is where we have arrived in the world. And yet, here we undoubtedly are.

Vaccines will be the bread and butter for impact investors; but then factor in the crushing human and economic costs of global pandemic, and suddenly you’re talking REAL money. Imagine tallying up ALL the costs associated with the Covid-19 lockdown. That is going to create one ENORMOUS cost offset for investors moving forward. The longer the lockdown the bigger the cost offset they will be able to use in “pay for success” pandemic deals. For this first round there is a certain sick market logic in making the situation as dire as possible. Future profits are riding on calculations of harm that are being tallied now.

Dress Rehearsal For The Big Event

Many have already looked into Event 201, the corona virus table-top game Gates funded in partnership with the World Economic Forum and the Johns Hopkins Center For Health Security last October. Another funder was Open Philanthropy, started by Facebook Employee #3 Dustin Markovitz. I highly recommend checking out the videos, especially the highlight reel and the communication and finance sessions.


Interactive Map Event 201 here.

I’ve seen comments dismissing concern over this event, because the tabletop game wasn’t actually Covid-19, but rather a generic corona virus. Evidently because authorities had been anticipating a pandemic event, we should just shrug off the fact that a corona virus outbreak occurred mere months after participants checked out of the luxury Pierre Hotel with their souvenir virus plushies. Watch the videos – the event was a spectacle. Certainly not a serious strategic venture. Even the program for the prior year’s game, Clade-X was much more buttoned-up and serious.

A glance over the participant list shows high-level executives from Edelman (public relations) and NBC Universal; George Gao, director of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention; as well as a number of groups, including Johnson and Johnson and GAVI, that have a stake in vaccine trials underway. While the event was held in New York, there were also participants representing Australia, Canada, Switzerland, China, and the United Nations.

Given Gao’s presence at this event and his participation in the WHO / World Bank’s Global Preparedness Monitoring Board, one wonders at the apparent disintegration of communication channels after the game was over. If Gates, the World Economic Forum, and Johns Hopkins set up Event 201 with the goal of fostering the creation of an integrated global pandemic response strategy, the aftermath of the Wuhan outbreaks and lack of information sharing shows it to have been a spectacular failure. But as I conjectured in my previous post “Mind The Gap” on pandemics and pay for success finance, perhaps the first round was supposed to be a spectacular failure so that it would be easier to show improvement during future outbreaks.

Next up will be a deep dive into Michael Bloomberg and his ties to Johns Hopkins and the World Health Organization. He is the one who is setting up the “smart” city infrastructure steeped in human capital finance and high-tech policing. The Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, which is based in the Bloomberg School of Public Health was the host of Event 201. See the arrow on the map below.

Interactive version of map here.

 

[Alison McDowell is a mom and an independent researcher who blogs about the intersection of technology and predatory philanthropy at wrenchinthegears.com.]

VIDEO PRIMER: The Ecology of Trust Mechanization – For the Fourth Industrial Revolution

April 17, 2020

 

“As populations become more volatile with the roll out of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, digital quarantine will be a powerful method of regulating economic systems and human bodies.” — Alison Hawver McDowell, independent researcher, Wrench in the Gears

This primer, authored by Larry Lohmann, is a basic and essential primer on Blockchain, Bitcoin, and information capitalism.

Why this primer is of critical importance: The future, is now firmly on our doorstep.

The infrastructure and architecture of the Fourth Industrial Revolution is designed by the ruling class; in conjunction with transnational corporations, global finance capital and global institutions. The human population will be controlled “via digital identity systems tied to cashless benefit payments within the context of a militarized 5G, IoT (Internet of Things), and AR (Augmented Reality) environment. The billionaire class has built and is rapidly putting the finishing touches on infrastructure to run human capital social impact markets that will securitize the lives of most people as data streams. The technology that underlies this Fourth Industrial Revolution automation will hasten the death of the planet. The World Economic Forum is advancing a technocratic system of control and domination of humanity and the Earth… Why should we agree to this? It is a profound sickness of Western culture. Hubris. Sick. And totally ignoring the impact our actions have on the natural world around us.” — Alison Hawver McDowel

 

Knowledge is a weapon: Arm yourself.

 

 

Follow Wrench in the Gears: https://wrenchinthegears.com

Larry Lohmann has contributed to numerous scholarly books as well as to journals on land and forest conflicts, globalization, movements, racism, commons, ecology and the discourses of development and economics.

Blockchain Machines, Earth Beings and the Labour of Trust – by Larry Lohmann:

“The last 10 years have seen unprecedented efforts to automate whole new ranges of human and nonhuman activity: trust, recognition, identification, care, respect, translation and interpretation itself. It may be helpful to look at these developments — which include Bitcoin and blockchain — in the light of 19th-century mechanization. Although the new tide of automation recruits technologies that have become available only in the 21st century, it is no less dependent on the living work of human and more-then-human beings. Nor is it any less prone to exhaust or “max out” that work, wreaking ecological destruction and necessitating the organization of new frontiers of extraction. The new mechanization is also entwined with some of the same fantasies and rituals that have animated industrial capitalism since its beginnings.”

Download the parer: BLOCKCHAIN MACHINES, EARTH BEINGS AND THE LABOUR OF TRUST LOHMANN

#askU2 #U2TheJoshuaTree2017

The Radiant Labyrinth

March 14, 2017

 

ONE strengthie-beyonce-nbhap-1-770x345

In the category of “this is just irritating” consider this due reciprocity.

Bono’s ONE is up to their eyeballs in a campaign dubbed #girlscount #povertyissexist to support public education for 130 million girls for #IWD2017 (that’s International Women’s Day 2017 -may I remind you that by their own declaration 83% of ONE’s budget is allocated to “raising awareness and educating policymakers”).

That’s a little ironic, considering ONE’s present funding is dependent on Gates Foundation, whose stock portfolio depends on Warren Buffettwho’s practically the biggest individual Dakota Access Pipeline investor, -especially considering Buffett’s and Gates Foundation’s DAPL investment has officially crossed the threshold where its financial success is in fact dependent on racial oppression, which has its inherent adjunct of sexual oppression (evidenced by the disparate native indigenous statistics for poverty, education and sexual abuse/trafficking statistics for North Dakota (at the bottom of this page)).

Bill Gates has also crossed the threshold of picking his very own governor for North Dakota as of November 8th, 2016. (He announced his bid January 2016.)

Former Microsoft Exec Doug Burgum wins North Dakota’s Governor’s Race” – Fortune – “Why Former Microsoft Exec Doug Burgum Would Make a Good Governor

Bill Gates, Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect, delivers the Keynote speech and talks with Doug Burgum - Senior Vice President responsible for the Microsoft Business Solutions business group at Microsoft Convergence 2005 at the San Diego Convention Center. Gates spoke candidly about his personal visions and future endeavors to over 2000 attendees. (Photo by R. Born/WireImage)

Doug Burgum (right) with Bill Gates in 2005. Photograph by R. Born — WireImage/Getty Images

Were you aware the current Governor of North Dakota not only received more than a $100,000 from oil companies but also received $106,000 from U2’s ONE/RED sponsor, Bill Gates, and was previously the chief of staff for Microsoft in Fargo? Burgum’s fortune was made when Microsoft purchased his software company for a little over a billion. He then went on to work for Microsoft for six years. -Nothing like insuring your man is in charge when the investment that funds you goes from violent to shady to protect itself, eh? Burgum’s election campaign funding eclipsed that of his contender by just that, – $100,000 dollars. “Burgum Gets $100k from Bill Gates for Campaign, Raises nearly $1 million” – Inforum (-it ended up being $1.1 million)

Oil Money Flowed into the Burgum Campaign” – The Bismarck Tribune -oil money? -Yes. But Bill Gates gave him more, and that wasn’t just oil money.

The report goes onto claim there’s no funding connection between Governor Burgum and the Dakota Access Pipeline, -with a straight face. -But there is. Gates Foundation is proportionately invested in Phillips 66, who has a 25% stake in the pipeline, around $1.6 billion, thanks to over 55% of Gates Foundation’s portfolio being invested in Warren Buffett’s holding company Berkshire Hathaway, who has majority control of Phillips 66. That’s your connection. You don’t think a former staff person of Bill Gates (when it was Bill Gates who made him a multimillionaire) is not going to protect Gates’ financial interests? Gates funded him more than the oil companies. Remember, Bill Gates sits on Berkshire Hathaway’s Board of Directors.

“The role of governor is the closest thing to a CEO job in government,” says Burgum – “Why Former Microsoft Executive Doug Burgum Wants to Be Governor of North Dakota (Q&A)” -recode

Simultaneous to all this U2 are running #askU2 #U2TheJoshuaTree2017 where they only want to be asked about music, their album The Joshua Tree, and its commemorative tour. This was the resultant interview. Canadians aren’t sorry for not cooperating. At this point there’s just no justification for retaining that sort of privilege, after all, you took the money. (Gates Foundation’s funding of RED alone, which constituted 50% of their revenue, was $128 million for 2016.)

The Joshua Tree itself is dead, BTW, as are the Joshua Trees. The truth is fitting. May they join the ether as opposed to ending up buried alongside U2’s ethics. The term “Joshua Tree” is emblematic of “The Tree of Life”, because Joshua=Yeshua=Jesus; suitably it’s dead; as Bono would just as readily sacrifice it on the altar of the ideology vacuum we call capitalism if not for anything else.

Under normal circumstances the band saying they’re taking questions only about their latest musical foray might be considered fine and good, -were it not for the fact that they’ve already allowed considerable merger between the band brand, page, music fanship, and their charitable activities, and of course they just had to announce ONE’s #girlscount launch on their official facebook page, just as they just had to use it to announce Bono was commemorated as ‘Woman of the Year” by Glamour Magazine for #povertyissexist, when the protestors simultaneously being targeted and brutalized at the #NoDAPL protest were significantly women (scroll to the middle).

That in itself would be all right (if not for the subtext). But then there was that sordid episode where they employed humanitarianism with the greatest cynical calculus humanly possible simultaneous to telling milliennnials how to vote in #election2016 not once, but twice over. The problem was that the humanitarian appeals were on results of human suffering and root causes for terrorism that were directly consequent of policy enactments of who they instructed you to vote for, making the whole process a very calculated disassociation of conscience from the perpetrator they tried to manipulate you into voting for.

The problem is not that they told you how to vote. The problem is that they deliberately disassociated you from her direct policy results in doing so, because to vote for her is to act in complete conflict with their humanitarian statements (it is a state of cognitive dissonance to uncritically accept the humanitarian need of these situations and wish to solve them and yet endorse their architect, giving her the power to perpetuate more of the same). This issue has nothing to do with the present danger of the opposing candidate.

Telling the U.S. public who to vote for wouldn’t be so bad in and of itself, but in this instance, like a pack of smokes, it should have come with a sponsorship warning about the latest and greatest of Hillary’s billionaire sponsors bankrolling both of Bono’s charities/awareness campaigns, namely ONE and RED. And it is very questionable, given the long history of attendance with the Clinton Foundation and Clinton Global Initiative, –right up to the moment when he told you who to vote for, whether Bono was given a promisory note of sorts for how his effort towards Hillary Clinton’s election would be rewarded in kind from the Clinton Foundation vis a vis RED monies for AIDs. After all he had her on direct line enough to get broadcasts from the International Space Station on tour every night.

But better yet, U2 have been using their fanbase for RED monies in contests every year that capitalize on their fandom in meet Bono and/or meet the band virtual lotteries. So they’ve already created a cross-over situation in which they use their official band page for great utility raising money for RED using themselves, which is financial extraction designed to exploit the desire of the fan base. These contests are thrown for the wealthy, as the wealthy can make $25,000 entries and receive a commensurate number of lottery entries. Quite honestly the band can be accused of flogging these contests as much or more than any other subject, season depending. (For this run I have seven different posts, and I didn’t include all of them. Nope.) This is the affliction you’ll receive for being a fan. But none of these fans were informed that all of their entries were being matched by one of the biggest investments extant in the Dakota Access Pipeline now were they? Nor were any of the many celebrities that put themselves up for the sake of the meet and greet contests for RED, December 2016.

So what gives U2 the arbitrage to decide when they are specifically entitled to only be asked questions about music anymore, when they’ve combined matters so much as to use their fanbase as a charity extraction base -?

Here are all the truly sordid questions they blithely ignored and avoided with this arbitrage. They are not small matters. All of the questions are substantiated with the substantiation hyperlinked under the question. It is obvious due to the scant nature of the sourcing in places that some were of their nature genuine questions. Others must indicate the basis for their having to be asked. Those are also genuine.

Billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates and Bono exchange laughs during a session at the Global Fund conference Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016 in Montreal. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press via AP)

Billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates and Bono exchange laughs during a session at the Global Fund conference Saturday, September 17, 2016 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

I did miss one Question, however. That would have been whether U2 were aware that their secondary RED/ONE sponsor was also sponsoring 350.org and indeed the Standing Rock Tribe itself in order to attenuate and mis-direct the entire #defundDAPL boycott movement away from him and his investment; whereas Gate controls and attenuates the entire situation from the direction of Gates Foundation “media partners“, so you never hear about either Buffett’s or indeed Gates’ corporate misconduct (either invested or owned), or how Buffett’s funding makes Gates Foundation a major DAPL investor as well. As for those Gates Foundation Questions, you might find yourself floored.

The #askU2 exercise has given me the opportunity to fill in all the previous #askwarren questions I did not have enough time for. As a result there were 24 questions this time ’round. As a separate query exercise, it also means some are a repetition and cross reference those prior substantiation pages, -but you’ll be happy to know if you’ve been down this path before that I’ve added considerably to those. You will find something new, even in something so apparently innocuous as the name, Sacagawea. It may surprise you but beware, for opening each Question is akin to opening a nightmare.

#askU2 -How do   think  ‘s    celebs would feel finding out they were DAPL matched? -For that matter, how do you think the U2 fanbase and general public purchasing RED products would feel?

All this for what is really just a boom/bust operation anyhow. U.S. consumption is indicated to be in desperate straits.

That was the end of the DAPL related questions (turns out there were 11 in total, same as with #askwarren). There is a more substantial array: 

#askU2 –Are @U2 aware your @RED sponsor @gatesfoundation made handing down seeds illegal in Africa (Tanzania)?

#askU2 –Are you aware your @RED sponsor disaster capitalism’ed the New Orleans school system post #Katrina?

#askU2 –Are you aware your @RED /@ONECampaign sponsor is known for preying on the poor? #askwarren

#askU2 –Are @U2 aware your @RED/ONECampaign sponsor provided toxic trailers to refugees for #Katrina and #Haiti? #askwarren

 

“Doctors” Behind Syrian Chemical Weapons Claims are Aiding Terrorists

msf

Land Destroyer

August 25, 2013

by Tony Cartalucci

The “evidence” upon which the West is propping up its narrative of the Syrian government using chemical weapons against large numbers of civilians hinges so far entirely on claims made by “Doctors Without Borders.” In the New York Times article, “Signs of Chemical Attack Detailed by Aid Group,” it is reported:

An international aid group said Saturday that medical centers it supported near the site of a suspected chemical weapons attack near Damascus received more than 3,000 patients showing symptoms consistent with exposure to toxic nerve agents on the morning of the reported attack.

Of those, 355 died, said the group, Doctors Without Borders.

The statement is the first issued by an international organization working in Syria about the attack on Wednesday in the suburbs northeast of Damascus, the capital.

While it is often described by the Western media as “independent,” nothing could be further from the truth.

To begin with, Doctors Without Borders is fully funded by the very same corporate financier interests behind Wall Street and London’s collective foreign policy, including regime change in Syria and neighboring Iran. Doctors Without Borders’ own annual report (2010 report can be accessed here), includes as financial donors, Goldman Sachs, Wells Fargo, Citigroup, Google, Microsoft, Bloomberg, Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital, and a myriad of other corporate-financier interests.

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