In 2012, a student named Dayton Campbell-Harris asked me if I would buy a $10 Me to We water bottle so he could attend one of their upcoming events. Dayton was a good student as well as a good rugby player and since this charity professed to support student empowerment, how could I say no?
Eight years later, this charity, its fundraising arm and Justin Trudeau have all become embroiled in a scandal which has prompted federal Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion to launch the third investigation of the PM who appointed him. You can’t make this stuff up.
But beyond the nearly $1 billion “sole source” contract offered to this organization to run Canada’s summer jobs program and the $300,000 in speaking fees it paid to the Trudeau family, there is potentially a much darker side to this controversy which parents, teachers, principals and school board officials all across this country need to pay attention to. Teachers were paid as much as $12,000 each to recruit their own students by the We Charity, which raises enormous ethical issues in education.
Should teachers be recruiters, or benefit financially from their position of trust with the students whom they teach? The obvious answer is no, because doing so could create both real and apparent conflicts of interest, much like a politician or his family making extra money on the side.
However, since education is a provincial responsibility and each of the 60 school districts in B.C. also set important policies within their jurisdictions, it would be prudent at this time for those in senior local and provincial leadership positions to review what safeguards they have in place.
For example, if teachers own or manage a business instead of a charity, is it appropriate for them to hire current students whom they might still be teaching? Similarly, if a teacher either owns or is paid by a club sports team, is it ethical for that teacher to either recruit or financially benefit from their own students? Clearly, in both situations either a real or apparent conflict of interest would take place.
In addition to the practice of recruiting for money, the We Charity may also have involved a more subtle but equally questionable practice: recruiting for partisan purposes or ideology.
For example, if the founders of We, Marc and Craig Kielburger, have close political ties to Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party, that is their right, but did anyone tell the kids before they joined? And if teachers start encouraging or recruiting students to join politically active organizations, even if they aren’t paid to do this recruiting, is this really an appropriate thing to do with minors who aren’t even old enough to vote?
Of course teachers have as much right to be active in politics as any citizen, but you would think a former teacher now serving as prime minister would know better than to hold giant pep rallies full of students who might not be able to realize that a charitable event has now become a partisan one too—unless all the party leaders were invited to take part equally, which they weren’t.
Teachers should encourage students to get involved in their community, including in civic, provincial, and national campaigns, as long as the students are pursuing their own causes or parties and not their teacher’s interests or ideology and above all else, both these students and their parents have made informed consent.
Classrooms must be centres for education, not indoctrination, or in the case of the We Charity scandal, both indoctrination and renumeration.
Walter van Halst is a history teacher at Lord Tweedsmuir Secondary School and the Commissioner of the B.C. Secondary Schools Rugby Union.