Chilling statement

CBC News received dozens of complaints about its reporting on WE Charity before airing any coverage

As journalists at the CBC’s The Fifth Estate investigated WE Charity over several months in 2021, the broadcaster received numerous complaints including threats to sue from various individuals and organizations, including WE Charity donors. 

All of this happened before the CBC had published its coverage, said CBC editor-in-chief Brodie Fenlon in an editor’s blog posted on Nov. 20, 2021. 

“For the past several months, as our journalists conducted research and interviews, we received more than 30 letters of complaint with multiple signatures from WE Charity donors who expressed concerns about our journalism, questioned the integrity of our reporters and urged us not to publish or go to air with the story,” Fenlon said. 

These letters were sent to journalists, leaders of The Fifth Estate, Fenlon, the president of the CBC and CBC managers. 

The Fifth Estate’s investigation focused on allegations that WE Charity had misled donors about how their money had been used

Fenlon said that the CBC began receiving letters from WE donors shortly after journalists from The Fifth Estate began investigating the charity, starting with a September 2021 letter signed by more than 70 WE donors. 

In the letter, donors said the CBC’s reporting was inaccurate and that they did “not see any public interest in this kind of journalism.”

In Kenya, CBC journalists counted schools to determine how many were actually built with WE funding. Journalists interviewed the governor of Narok County and WE supporter, Samuel Tunai, who had his own camera crew record the CBC’s interview with him. 

Hours after this interview, a Toronto-based WE Charity lawyer wrote to The Fifth Estate, quoting part of the Tunai interview and stating, “It is clear that CBC has been presenting as ‘fact’ inaccurate information.” 

Kenya’s Ministry of the Interior also wrote a letter to the CBC, accusing its reporters of criminal activity and trespassing on government property.

The CBC received more than 30 letters from educators, individuals and charitable foundations between September and November 2021. According to Fenlon, some of the letters accused CBC journalists of “bias, unprofessionalism and self-interest.” Other letters threatened legal action against the CBC. 

According to Fenlon, many of the letters were similar, which he said suggested a “coordinated campaign.” 

On Feb. 8, 2022, WE sued the CBC in Washington, D.C., claiming that the broadcaster’s reporting on the charity was “false and misleading.” WE’s lawsuit asks the court to award financial damages to the charity and to require the CBC to “cease publication” of the allegations in The Fifth Estate’s reporting. 

Theresa Kielburger, the mother of WE Charity founders Craig and Marc Kielburger, sued Canadaland in October 2021 over “White Saviors,” a podcast miniseries published in August 2021. In the lawsuit, filed in Ontario on October 29, 2021, Theresa Kielburger claimed that Canadaland had defamed her by describing a 1996 magazine story which reported on donations to the organization. 

Before “White Saviors” was released, WE threatened to sue if the podcast was published, Canadaland publisher and editor-in-chief Jesse Brown told Press Progress.