The Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation is a non-partisan charitable organization that offers doctoral scholarship, mentorship and fellowship programs. It was founded in 2001 in memory of former Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau. In 2002, it received $125 million from the federal government as start-up funds. Justin Trudeau has always said that he no longer meddle in the affairs of the foundation, which bears the name of his father, since he became head of the Liberal Party of Canada. An email exchange obtained by La Presse, however, suggests otherwise – we’ll get to that.
The heart of the case dates back to 2016. It concerns a $200,000 donation announced by a Chinese billionaire to the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation. The contribution made headlines at the time, but resurfaced last February when The Globe and Mail revealed a potential link to Beijing. According to a national security source reporting information intercepted by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, wealthy businessman Zhang Bin was ordered by a Chinese diplomat to make a donation worth $1 million. dollars to the organization, with the promise that it would be reimbursed. In the end, the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation only received $140,000. A donation of $800,000 was also made to the Faculty of Law at the Université de Montréal.
You have to remember the context. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been under constant pressure for the past few weeks for an independent investigation to shed light on China’s attempts to interfere in the 2019 and 2021 elections. benefited from the political intervention of Beijing in the results of the last elections. According to the Globe and Mail, Chinese diplomats stationed in Canada have tried in particular to discourage the Chinese diaspora from voting for certain elected Conservatives. In yet another twist, documents obtained by La Presse revealed on Friday that an association supervised by Beijing was indeed behind the check paid to the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation.
In fact, Zhang Bin is also president of the China Cultural Industry Association (CCIA), an organization “approved by the Beijing State Council” and “supervised by the Chinese Ministry of Culture”, according to its website. The first two installments of $70,000 each were made to the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation by the CCIA. The tax receipt issued by the organization, however, was in the name of International Millennium Golden Eagle, Zhang Bin’s company. As for the donation made to the University of Montreal, it came from another billionaire member of the CCIA: Niu Gensheng. In early March, the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation announced that it would reimburse the disputed donation. After struggling to return it, she finally repaid the total sum of $140,000 to the International Millennium Golden Eagle, whose head office is located in a deserted area in Dorval.
Eight members of the board of directors presented their resignation Monday evening to the foundation, as well as four members of the management, including the one who was president and general manager, Pascale Fournier. They felt that members who were already on the board in 2016, at the time of the donation, should recuse themselves completely to avoid interfering in an independent investigation. However, they would have refused to do so. Contrary to what the press release asserts, which attributes the situation to the “politicization of the file”, it is rather this “ethical crisis” of governance which led to the break-up of the Board. The three members of the Board who remain at the foundation, lawyers Edward Johnson, Peter Sahlas and Bruce McNiven, are all part of the group that was present at the time of the donation in 2016.
Justin Trudeau repeated Thursday that he had not been involved in the affairs of the foundation for 10 years. However, La Presse obtained an exchange of emails dating from 2016 between the director general of the organization at the time and a key employee of the Prime Minister’s Office. The latter demanded details of the “Chinese donation”, five months after the signing of the donation contract. Shortly after the Globe and Mail revelation, Justin Trudeau entrusted the mandate of special rapporteur on Chinese interference to David Johnston, a former member of the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation, who must in particular determine whether there should be a public inquiry. in the matter of foreign interference. The Prime Minister reiterated his confidence in him on Wednesday, but in the eyes of the opposition, the whole situation reveals a curious proximity between the Liberal Party of Canada and Beijing.