Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre holds up redacted documents during a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2020. The documents were tabled by the Government at the House of Commons Finance Committee. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre holds up redacted documents during a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2020. The documents were tabled by the Government at the House of Commons Finance Committee. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Opposition parties decry black ink in WE documents, allege continuing coverup

Many of the pages have been blacked out, either in part or in their entirety

Opposition parties are taking issue with the black ink applied to many of the thousands of pages of newly released documents about the WE Charity controversy, suggesting the redactions are part of a continuing coverup by the federal Liberals.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ordered the 5,000-plus pages released to MPs on the House of Commons finance committee Tuesday as he announced the prorogation of Parliament until Sept. 23.

The documents contain numerous exchanges between federal civil servants, ministerial staff and WE Charity officials about the plan to have the Toronto-based organization run a multimillion-dollar program encouraging students to volunteer during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Canada Student Service Grant program gradually took shape over a period of weeks, initially including the possibility of a scholarship or bursary, and eventually fixed sums linked to the number of hours spent volunteering.

By proroguing Parliament, Trudeau put a temporary end to the four committees that have spent the summer probing the decision to enlist WE Charity, which has close connections to the families of the prime minister and Bill Morneau, who resigned as finance minister this week.

Trudeau announced the launch of the program on June 25. But there was immediate controversy over his perceived conflict of interest and WE Charity pulled out of the agreement, which was to have paid the organization $43.5 million, on July 3.

The newly released documents seem to back up the Trudeau government’s assertion it was federal public servants who recommended the student service grant program be administered by WE Charity.

They also suggest bureaucrats may have been encouraged to pursue that course by their political masters.

Yet many of the pages have been blacked out, either in part or in their entirety.

READ MORE: Docs suggest bureaucrats were nudged to look to WE Charity for student program

In a letter to the clerk of the finance committee that was released with the documents, the clerk of the Privy Council said the redactions were made in accordance with the committee’s own decision to protect cabinet secrets and personal information.

“The committee’s motion stipulates that cabinet confidence and national security information are to be excluded from the package,” Ian Shugart wrote to committee clerk David Gagnon on Aug. 7.

“A principled approach was adopted to this information to ensure a non-selective application of the protection afforded by cabinet confidentiality. As a result, considerable information on the Canada Student Service Grant that would otherwise constitute cabinet confidences is being released.”

Shugart went on to say that information on the pages was withheld if deemed not relevant to the grant program.

Still, the redactions emerged as a focal point for opposition anger and frustration on Wednesday, with Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre waving several partially and completely blacked-out pages during a news conference on Parliament Hill.

Among the documents that Poilievre focused on was an email that WE co-founder Craig Kielburger sent to Morneau on April 26 with two attached documents, the contents of which are withheld.

“We’d love to learn about the attached documents in it, but unfortunately, in what is to become a trend throughout this package, all the relevant information in the two documents are completely blacked out,” Poilievre said.

Poilievre held up several other redacted documents before tossing them aside.

“This page blacked out,” he said. “This page blacked out. This page, blacked out. Why don’t we ask what’s in those pages at a parliamentary committee? Well, I’ll tell you why: Justin Trudeau shut down those parliamentary committees.”

The New Democrats also complained about the documents Wednesday, with NDP finance critic Peter Julian writing a letter to finance committee chair and Liberal MP Wayne Easter arguing it wasn’t up to the government to make redactions.

Rather, he said the committee’s motion had called for the government to provide unredacted documents for the parliamentary law clerk to vet, with the understanding members would then be able to challenge redactions they thought were excessive.

“Nearly a quarter of the documents provided to committee members were redacted in whole or in part,” Julian wrote. “It is over 1,000 pages that we as parliamentarians do not have full access to shed light on this scandal.”

MPs on the finance committee actually received late Tuesday a second version of the same documents, which had been undergoing vetting by the parliamentary law clerk since they were submitted to the committee Aug. 9.

That version redacted all the names and email addresses of bureaucrats so that it is impossible to tell who wrote what or who was talking to whom, which rendered them far less informative than the set Trudeau ordered released.

Easter said he does not fault the law clerk for being cautious, but the end result rendered the documents essentially useless.

“Our intent as a committee in terms of the motion was (to find out) who’s talking to who and what time did they talk to who and what did they say. So without the names they’re not going to be very effective for you, if at all,” Easter said.

If not for Trudeau ordering release of the documents as originally submitted to the committee, Easter said, there would have been far less information available.

“I think what the prime minister’s documents show is the prime minister’s trying to be transparent.”

Lee Berthiaume, Jim Bronskill and Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Conservative Party of CanadaJustin TrudeauLiberals

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The concept design for the spray park and playground in Pogadl Park. (Photo Courtesy of Canadian Recreation Solutions)
Sylvan Lake spray park tentatively scheduled to open next year

Sylvan Lake Town Council approved the tender of the spray park and playground in Pogadl Park

Alberta's chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw says Albertans need to keep making safe choices to start bending the curve back down. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
One new COVID-19 death in Red Deer, 257 additional cases province-wide

Red Deer sits at 459 active cases of the virus

One of the oil paintings stolen from a season home near the boat launch on Kuusamo Krest. (Photo Submitted)
Sylvan Lake RCMP search for paintings stolen from vacation home

Three original paintings were reportedly stolen from a seasonal home

A lone skater practises his shot on a melting outdoor rink recently. As of March 2, all outdoor skating rinks, including the ones on the lake, are closed for the season. (Photo Submitted by Town of Sylvan Lake)
All outdoor skating rinks in Sylvan Lake closed for the season

The Town announced Tuesday morning the rinks on the lake were also closed due to the warm weather

A health-care worker looks at a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at the Palais de Congress site as Quebec begins mass vaccinations based on age across the province, Monday, March 1, 2021 in Montreal.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Nearly 1 million COVID-19 vaccine doses arriving in Canada this week: Anand

Anita Anand says she’s received assurances from the vaccine manufacturer

A vial of some of the first 500,000 of the two million AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses that Canada has secured through a deal with the Serum Institute of India in partnership with Verity Pharma at a facility in Milton, Ont., on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Carlos Osorio - POOL
Federal panel recommends 4-month gap between COVID vaccine doses due to limited supply

The recommendation applies to all COVID-19 vaccines currently approved in Canada

hands
The call is out in Rimbey to sign on with a group that is all about building connections

‘Already, we are building a network where we can rely on each other and help each other out’

FILE - Dolly Parton arrives at the 61st annual Grammy Awards on Feb. 10, 2019, in Los Angeles. The Grammy-winning singer, actor and humanitarian posted a video on Tuesday, March 2, 2021, of her singing just before getting her COVID-19 vaccine shot. Parton donated $1 million to Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee for coronavirus research. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP, File)
‘Vaccine, vaccine’: Dolly sings ‘Jolene’ rewrite before shot

The Grammy-winning legend turned 75 this year

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland speaks about the Fiscal update during a news conference in Ottawa, Monday November 30, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
COVID-19: Wage and rent subsidies, lockdown support to be extended until June

Chrystia Freeland says now is not time to lower levels of support

Many rural seniors are having to travel a long way to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Stettler residents are being told to go to Red Deer, Drumheller or Camrose. (Black Press file photo).
Rural central Alberta seniors have to travel far to get vaccines

Stettler residents are being directed to Red Deer, Drumheller or Camrose clinics

Samantha Sharpe, 25, was stabbed to death at Sunchild First Nation on Dec. 12, 2018. Chelsey Lagrelle was sentenced to 4.5 years in prison for manslaughter in a Red Deer courtroom on Tuesday. Photo contributed
Central Alberta woman sentenced to 4 1/2 years for stabbing friend to death in 2018

Chelsey Lagrelle earlier pleaded guilty to stabbing Samantha Sharpe during argument

Calgary police say they received 80 hate crime complaints between January and November 2020. (Pixabay)
‘Racism is a real problem:’ Muslim women fearful following attacks in Edmonton

So far in 2021, three of seven hate-crime-related investigations have involved Somali-Muslim women

Alberta Minister of Health Tyler Shandro speaks during a news conference in Calgary on May 29, 2020. Shandro says Alberta is considering whether to extend the time between COVID-19 vaccine shots to four months. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Alberta may follow B.C.’s lead on faster rollout of first COVID-19 dose

Tyler Shandro says a committee of COVID-19 experts is analyzing emerging data and a decision is coming

Most Read