Alexandre Trudeau, the prime minister’s younger brother, nicknamed Sacha as a famous child, is set to testify Wednesday afternoon to a parliamentary committee about his role in a controversial donation from a Chinese billionaire to the Trudeau Foundation. He said it was “urgent” that he do so, after the committee previously voted to exempt him, as a family member. A filmmaker and journalist, activist and former military man, and more averse than his brother to public attention, the National Post sketches the younger Trudeau’s biography.
Who is Alexandre Trudeau?
He is the second son of Pierre Trudeau and Margaret Trudeau, born two years after Justin, and also on Christmas Day. He is married to Zoe Bedos Trudeau, and they have three children. His name is said to have been inspired by the former Soviet Ambassador to Canada Alexander Yakovlev. He served in the Canadian Forces, trained at CFB Gagetown, N.B., and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Royal Canadian Hussars reserve regiment.
He left the Forces after graduating from McGill University in 1997, then became a journalist and documentary producer. He has done war-zone work in Liberia, Serbia, Haiti and Sudan, in Baghdad during the worst of the American invasion, and in Israel and Palestine.
John English, the elder Trudeau’s biographer and former MP, has said Sacha would often profess to be apolitical, and sometimes did not even vote, but that English recognized something “profoundly political” in him, even if it was focused on more abstract philosophical matters. “He’s very much his father’s son in that regard,” English once told Postmedia.
Is he in politics?
He was an advisor on Justin Trudeau’s campaign for the Liberal leadership, and his name has been tossed around in nomination discussions, but he has never run for office. In some ways, he has been closer to the action as a documentarian and journalist.
He took an activist stance against the use of security certificates against alleged terrorists not actually charged with crimes, and offered in court to act as surety for Hassan Almrei, whom he had interviewed. His association through that case with leading members of the anti-imperialist left wing also made him a prominent voice in debates against Canada’s participation in the Afghanistan war, and Israel’s treatment of Gaza. But he generally only speaks publicly to promote a project, and rarely gives interviews.
But he does write.
In 2016 he wrote Barbarian Lost: Travels in the New China, which deliberately echoed Two Innocents in Red China, a 1961 book by Pierre Trudeau and his journalist friend Jacques Hébert, later a senator. It was well reviewed. But it got less attention than what he wrote in the Toronto Star in August, 2006, under the headline “The last days of the patriarch.”
It was ostensibly about the close bond between Pierre Trudeau and Fidel Castro, but it read like a lavish tribute that blatantly glossed over the dark side of Cuban Communism in order to flatter “the most curious man that I have ever met,” who is unmatched among the “mere managers” of geopolitics, except perhaps for his fellow “patriarch,” Nelson Mandela. Trudeau was savaged in the press, even in The Star that published it, for his article’s unqualified praise of this “visionary statesman” with an “inescapable rationality,” and for claiming, in the last line, that “Cubans will always feel privileged that they, and they alone, had Fidel.”
How did he become involved in the Trudeau Foundation?
When the first two dozen Pierre Elliott Trudeau fellows were funded in 2002, Alexandre Trudeau was at the opening press conference as a director of the new foundation. “My father had great expectations for this country,” he said. “On behalf of my whole family I would like to thank the Canadian people for this very fitting tribute.” Focused on human rights and social justice, federalism, responsible citizenship, Canada and the world, and humans and their natural environment, Trudeau said the fellowships “will change the country. In 10 or 20 years they will bring us a new generation of extraordinary Canadians whose voices will be heard more clearly and more deeply here and abroad.”
Not everyone was buying it. The National Post editorial board called them “featherbed fellowships,” and said the government should have just named a mountain after him instead. “That gesture would have spared Canadians the bald-faced intellectual chauvinism and nine-digit cost foisted upon them by what is, in effect, a scholarship reserved for Trudeauphiles.”
Has he ever before been involved in a charity’s financial scandal?
Now that you mention it, in 2020 the defunct charitable empire WE acknowledged it paid Alexandre Trudeau $40,000 for eight appearances in 2017 and 2018. His mother received much more.