Speakers' Spotlight faced threats, abuse due to WE Charity controversy

The head of the company that arranged for members of the Trudeau family to be paid to speak at WE Charity events says the firm has received a torrent of abuse in recent months. 

Martin Perelmuter, president and co-founder of Speakers’ Spotlight, was testifying in front of the House of Commons ethics committee on Monday.

The committee was meeting to probe any conflicts of interest or lobbying that might have arisen in the course of government spending on the COVID-19 pandemic.

Perelmuter said his company and employees have been “needlessly dragged into this political firestorm,” despite complying with Parliament’s orders as the latter sought to investigate the WE Charity affair. 

“For the past three months, our company has been the subject of harassment, including personal threats to ourselves and our staff,” he told MPs.

The speaking engagements by Prime Minister and his family became a matter of interest this summer after his government outsourced the $500-million Canada Student Service Grant — a program to pay students for volunteering — to WE Charity, an organization with which his family, and that of then-finance minister Bill Morneau, had close financial ties for years.

As recently as March, Trudeau’s wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, attended a WE Day event in London, and began hosting a WE podcast in May.

As the controversy erupted, WE Charity said none of their speakers had been paid, but reporting from news outlet Canadaland revealed that Trudeau’s wife, his mother Margaret, and his brother Alexandre, had been paid hundreds of thousands of dollars collectively to participate in WE Day events.

Since then, prominent figures such as Canadian singer Jully Black have publicly said they were not paid to speak at WE events. 

A motion to obtain Speakers’ Spotlight’s records of all materials between Trudeau and WE showing “an indication of the fee provided, any expenses that were reimbursed, and the name of the company, organization, person or entity booking it” was passed by the ethics committee on July 22.

Spotlight was ready to release the records, Perelmuter said, but the order to produce the documents was cancelled when the prime minister prorogued Parliament in August.

READ MORE: Libs filibuster committees despite opposition’s efforts to reopen WE Charity probe

Problems arose when Conservative MP Michael Barrett sent Perelmuter a letter on Aug. 27, urging Spotlight to do “the right thing” and release the documents, even during prorogation.

“The shuttering of the ethics committee does not hinder your ability to make this information public, in order to bring clarity and transparency to government,” Barrett wrote.

But complying with the request would have placed the company in breach of its client’s privacy rights, Perelmuter said.

When Barrett’s request became public through news reports, Perelmuter said it placed his firm in a “really difficult situation” that led to police involvement

“I didn’t feel that I could properly protect (employees) from what was going on,” Perelmuter said.

Bloc Québécois MP Marie-Hélène Gaudreau said what the company has gone through has been “uncomfortable,” as the WE Charity ordeal has been for Parliament. 

NDP MP Charlie Angus said members want to hear from Speakers’ Spotlight in order to understand the “very complex” We Charity matter. 

“We need to get some answers here to clarify this,” Angus said, noting the conflicting information members heard about paid speaking engagements.

He asked about a finance committee hearing in July, in which WE Charity co-founders Marc and Craig Kielburger said Margaret and Alexandre Trudeau had only been paid to attend ancillary events, such as private dinners, but hadn’t been paid to speak publicly.

Perelmuter confirmed that WE events included receptions and dinners that speakers were paid to attend. 

“Everything was included and detailed in the agreement,” he said. “It was a requirement that the individual would participate in all of these events.”

READ MORE: Liberal MPs filibuster motion to review WE Charity payments to Trudeaus — again

Perelmuter also told the committee that Speakers’ Spotlight uses market value to determine how much speakers are paid.

The company hasn’t worked with Trudeau since 2012, the year the latter decided to run for the Liberal leadership, and hasn’t worked with Trudeau’s wife since 2013, Perelmuter added.

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