Charity Intelligence and Kate Behan: Players, not Watchdog

Charity Intelligence and Kate Behan: Players, not Watchdog
by Mark Bourrie
May 21, 2024
Charity Intelligence and Kate Behan: Players, not Watchdog

In researching my forthcoming book on the WE Charity-Canada Student Service Grant saga that saw Canadian politicians, the media and a few bad actors from the non-profit sector conspire to take down Canada’s most beloved and respected charity, I came across a startling revelation.

Canada is a small country, and the political sphere is tiny, But it shouldn’t be this small.

Two of the key players in the destruction of the charity, Kate Bahen, Managing Director of Charity Intelligence, and soon-to-be retired NDP MP Charlie Angus appear to me to be working together behind the scenes to destroy WE. Angus had, in 2019, tweeted to Jesse Brown that he believed the bizarre, over-hyped stories about WE posted on Brwon’s Canadaland site that summer.

Now, we can see that there were other strange couplings.

I’ve written about Charity Intelligence and Charlie Angus and their respective roles in attacking the charity and its founders, Marc and Craig Kielburger. I’d always suspected that, during the summer of 2020, there was a level of coordination between Bahen and Angus. I recently learned there was a direct financial connection: a $500 donation from Bahen to the MP from Northern Ontario who tag-teamed with Pierre Poilievre to attack WE. And Bahen, supposedly an objective analyst of Canada’s charities, was a star witness in that circus.

This is astounding and incredibly inappropriate.

A years-long efforts to destroy the charity –in Canada, at least -- and ruin the reputation of its founders.

A few weeks ago, as part of the research for the new book, I sent Bahen some questions about her political donations and her relationships. I wanted to discuss her role in the Canada Student Service Grant scandal and Charity Intelligence’s history of political donations and personal connections to the Conservative party.

When I asked her which political parties she has personally donated to, she offered this vague response:

“As I stated in testimony, I made campaign donations to my friend who chose to run for public office. This friend was courted by both the Conservative and the Liberal party to run. I also gave, from memory, an equal amount to help another friend in his campaign as a Liberal candidate.”

The “testimony” she refers to is her appearance before the Standing Committee on Finance in August 2020. One problem, she made no reference to donating to anyone during the testimony. Similarly, there is no record in the Elections Canada or Elections Ontario databases of her donating to any Liberal candidate.

She went on, saying, “More recently I made a small contribution to an outstanding NDP candidate.”

I didn’t think much of that line at the time. It could be anyone, though it’s unlikely that the NPD candidates in the two affluent neighbourhoods that Bahen owns homes have much of a chance of being elected. (Public records show Bahen owns multi-million dollar properties – one in Toronto’s St. Lawrence Market neighbourhood and a massive “cottage” on Georgian Bay.  I’ll be doing a deeper dive on Ms. Bahen’s real estate empire in a future post).

So I went back to the Elections Canada database to see who this NDP candidate was. Charlie Angus, MP for Timmins-James Bay, was the lucky duck!

Small world indeed.

So the senior executive and public face of a supposedly impartial, objective and non partisan charity rating agency made political donations, which, though perfectly legal, seems to me to be a very bad call. Donating to one of the two politicians (Conservative, Pierre Poilievre was Angus’s sidekick) who led the charge in destroying a charity that helps children is just gross.

Bahen did say in her Finance Committee testimony that she finds “partisanship toxic”. Yet she’s still alive and employed.

It’s all very on-brand for Bahen, however. In my interactions with her I’ve noticed that she has thin skin when it comes to explaining her actions.  One would think a person who makes a living scrutinizing organizations would be up to handling a few questions. Sadly, this is not the case.

Once, after she ignored me for several weeks when I asked some simple follow-up questions,  she chided me for misspelling her last name, writing “My kids tell me that you spell my name wrong to vex me. I just see it as sloppy. It’s Kate Bahen – see above, and also in my email address.”

Weird. But it wasn’t the first time. In an earlier exchange, she insisted on correcting me for an alleged infraction in the subject line of my email.

So yea, I guess she showed me she’s a superior writer. I guess. And deflection is probably more satisfying to Bahen than answering questions.

(Since we are, apparently, keeping score she misspelled three words (“conspirarcy” instead of conspiracy, “signficicant” instead of significant and “deseat” instead of unseat), and wrote “to to de-post” (repeated word and “de-post” is not a word). Mark her down for five mistakes. Oops.) But hey, emails are emails, often written on toilets by people drinking coffee while typing with their thumbs/

Anyway, for each rating, Charity Intelligence provides space for the charity to submit comments that provide context or point to possible errors or misunderstandings, etc.

Recently, Charity Intelligence removed WE’s formal critique of Charity Intelligence’s methodology from the WE Charity rating page after WE’s comments had been there for months. comments about the ratings without notice or a means for appeal.

Now, the site reads “In August 2023, WE Charity provided a comment that was posted. In March 2024, Charity Intelligence was advised of legal concerns. WE Charity's comment has been temporarily removed for legal review.”

For WE Charity Foundation, the text reads: “Comments by the charity are under review.”

“Temporary” has turned out to be a long time. There was no explanation, and the supposed legal issues were lost on me. (In my day job, I’m a defamation lawyer.)

I reached out to Bahen to try get an explanation that might make sense. No luck.

Her response: “I don’t know what the concerns are. Our lawyer emailed us that he has concerns and we have scheduled a call to better understand. I think it’s prudent when a lawyer tells one there’s an issue to listen. As such, to be cautious, we temporarily removed the comment on WE Charity.”

There was snow in the ground when I got that email. The lawyer must be awfully busy.

She went on:

“I don’t believe this is arbitrary. I took this action to temporarily remove the comment. I believe it is cautious when one discovers something could potentially have legal issues to to de-post (sic) it until one finds out what the problem is.”

I also asked her if Charity Intelligence had censored any other organizations. She ignored the question. I can only assume that the answer is “no”.

Bahen later told WE staff the comments were removed because of factual errors and that some of the text was “defamatory”.

I just see thin skin. The comments, which, as I said, were up for months, were critical of Charity Intelligence’s work. It seemed like a measured response to what WE saw as unfair criticism and bias.

Canada needs a charity watchdog organization. It deserves to have a good one. So over the next few months, I’ll see if we really do have one.

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