Trudeau Foundation ‘Misled’ on Origin of Chinese Donation: Former CEO
The former CEO of the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation who recently quit her post over the handling of a 2016 donation says her predecessor “misled” the public by claiming its origin was Canadian and not Chinese.
Pascale Fournier, who left the foundation with other board members a few weeks ago during an internal crisis, made the remarks while testifying before the House of Commons ethics committee on April 28.
She noted a statement her predecessor Morris Rosenberg had given to the National Post in 2016 regarding the $200,000 donation promised by Chinese businessmen Zhang Bin and Niu Gensheng.
The Post article paraphrased Rosenberg as saying the foundation does not count the donation as being foreign since it was made by a company registered in Canada.
“This was a declaration on behalf of the foundation to say that it was not foreign, that it was Canadian money. This was in the annual report as well, when in fact, the tax receipt itself mentioned China,” said Fournier, who’s a full professor of law at the University of Ottawa.
“I think this is something that is misleading to Canadians.”
Zhang Bin and Niu Gensheng, both formally associated with the Chinese regime-backed China Cultural Industry Association (CCIA), had promised to give a total of $1 million to the foundation and the Université de Montréal in 2014, in honour of former prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau.
The issue surfaced in the news in 2016 a few months after the donation ceremony, when the Globe and Mail reported that Zhang Bin had attended a cash-for-access Liberal Party fundraiser where Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was the guest of honour.
Of the $200,000 promised to the foundation, only $140,000 was provided in the end in two instalments.
But the reality doesn’t quite match what was publicly announced by the donation’s beneficiaries.
Fournier explained that the two charitable receipts had been signed by Rosenberg, with the one for the first instalment of 2016 mentioning an address in China. It was also not in the name of either announced donor, but on behalf of the company Millennium Golden Eagle, which is owned by Zhang Bin.
The receipt for the second instalment provided in 2017 was for the same company, but this time with an address in Quebec and containing the names of the donors, said Fournier.
“I immediately started to ask questions about why is it that we would have two receipts that are so different that one seems to be international with money that seems to come from China, and another one with an address in Quebec,” she said.
The Epoch Times reached out to Rosenberg and the Trudeau Foundation for comment but didn’t hear back by publication time.
Fournier’s inquiries about the donation started after the Globe and Mail reported on Feb. 28 that it was the Chinese regime that directed Zhang Bin to give money to the Trudeau Foundation, in a potential foreign influence scheme.
When Fournier started investigating internally what had transpired, she found out through reviewing emails that the CCIA was in direct communication with foundation employees, telling them what to specifically write on the donation receipts.
She said that based on what she saw, there was no direct link between the donors and the foundation. “The link was really between this association [CCIA] and the foundation.”
“Is it fair to say that the association was an extension of the People’s Republic of China, the government?” asked NDP MP Matthew Green.
“I think there was a very strong proximity. I don’t know if I would say extension, but it was clearly under the guidance … of the government,” said Fournier.
Green then asked if one could infer there would have been guidance from the Chinese regime with regard to this particular donation.
“Possibly, that’s why I wanted to have an unrestricted forensic audit to understand what happened before I became president and CEO of the foundation,” Fournier answered.
An internal conflict over how that forensic audit would unfold is what led Fournier and other board members to resign, she said.
They wanted board members who were there at the time of the donation, some of whom had roles in managing internal finances, to recuse themselves from any review to protect its integrity.
Fournier says they refused. She named them as the three board members who have stayed on to manage the affairs of the foundation: Edward (Ted) Johnson, Bruce McNiven, and Peter Sahlas. All are Trudeau family friends, and Johnson and McNiven were founding members of the Trudeau Foundation.
“There was this tension regarding … some members who were asked to recuse themselves and so there was a breach of trust to shed a full light on this issue and to protect the foundation,” she said.
Fournier and most the board resigned on April 11 and the foundation announced the next day it was hiring an accounting firm, itself instructed by a law firm, to conduct the internal review. The foundation also asked the auditor general to investigate, but the AG said it would be outside the scope of her mandate.
More about the Chinese donation and the Trudeau Foundation will be revealed in committee in the coming days, as Rosenberg is set to testify on May 2. The committee also passed two unanimous motions, one calling on Johnson to testify and the other to have Fournier produce documents in her possession.
The committee will review the documents behind closed doors and might not amount to much, since Fournier said foundation people searched her house for six hours “to make sure that they would leave with with everything.” They also took back the organization’s computer and cellphone she was using.
“They insisted on the fact that they wanted to read all of the text messages, and that I was not allowed to touch any of the text messages,” she said.
Alexandre Trudeau will also testify before the committee on May 3. He had been involved in the donation deal early, with a web posting from the CCIA showing him in a picture dated June 2014 with Zhang Bin, Niu Gensheng, and then Université de Montréal vice-president Guy Lefebvre.
Fournier said that she was surprised to see that Alexandre Trudeau signed the donation contract instead of Rosenberg, especially since the donation receipts were signed by Rosenberg.
“I have not found a resolution from the board that authorized Mr. Alexandre Trudeau to sign this contract nor anything in the meeting minutes from committees or the board at the time, but that said, I wasn’t there.”
The Trudeau Foundation, which provides scholarships and mentorship, was established by the federal government in the early 2000s to honour the memory of former primer minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, and was endowed with $125 million.
It is associated with the Ministry of Innovation, which can appoint up to eight individuals to its leadership structure.
The department told The Epoch Times that the “Government of Canada is not involved in the day-to-day operations” of the foundation.
Fournier also told the ethics committee that to her knowledge, during her mandate, the foundation did not have links with the prime minister.
“Me personally … I indeed had no links but I cannot speak for other members of our leadership.”
Trudeau has said repeatedly that he’s had no dealings with the foundation since becoming Liberal Party Leader.
“For 10 years, I have had no direct or indirect involvement with the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation,” he told the House of Commons on April 26.