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Clark's Kenya Christmas mystery continues

Details about Premier Christy Clark's cancelled Christmastime humanitarian mission to Kenya remain a mystery.

Clark told the Canadian Press in a 2013 year-end interview that she planned to take her 12-year-old son Hamish to the East African nation for a school-building project with the Toronto-based charity Free The Children. A week later, the premier's office said the trip was cancelled for "private reasons," but did not elaborate.

The only entry between Dec. 19, 2013 and Jan. 14, 2014 in Clark's calendar, obtained via freedom of information, was the "Carols for the City" service at Christ Church Cathedral on Christmas Eve.

The Tyee filed an FOI request seeking all records regarding the planned Kenya trip, including the schedule, budget, approvals and costs that resulted because of the cancellation, in addition to correspondence with Free The Children and Kenyan authorities.

In its April 23 response, the Office of the Premier cited five sections of the FOI law to withhold 31 pages in their entirety. Only two emails to the premier, from people whose identities and affiliations were withheld by the government, were released.

A message sent at 2 p.m. on Dec. 27, 2013 under the subject "cancelled trip to Kenya" said: "We are so sad on receiving news that your trip to our lovely country was cancelled on the eleventh hour. However, we respect your decision for we believe there is a reason. Best wishes."

The other email, dated Dec. 28, 2013 at 1:14 p.m., under the subject "Kenya," said: "Why with all the issues in this province and country would you choose to go to Kenya to build a school? Let's fix the problems here first. Thank you."

In withholding the 31 pages, the premier's office claimed it feared disclosure would harm law enforcement, intergovernmental relations or negotiations, financial or economic interests of a public body, public safety and personal privacy.

IntegrityBC executive director Dermod Travis wondered whether the alleged security fear may have been tied to the aftermath of a terrorist attack last September at an upscale shopping mall in Kenya's capital, Nairobi. Vancouver businessman Naguib Damji and Canadian diplomat Annemarie Desloges were among the 67 people killed on Sept. 21, 2013. Islamist terrorist group Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility.

"(The premier) would be a high-profile target in parts of Africa," Travis said. "She would also be an absolute diplomatic nightmare for both (Canada and Kenya) if something had happened to her while she was over there."

In December 2012, Finance Minister Mike de Jong's health promotion walkathon in India's Punjab region was curtailed because of security fears.

Free The Children's 2012 annual report said it spent $36.3 million of $39.243 million raised. Revenue sources included $1.2 million from governments and $586,000 in profits from its company, Me to We, which markets "socially conscious experiences and products." The Me to We website advertises 10 and 14-day shopping, safari and school-building Volunteer Adventures to Kenya starting at US$4,395. Airfare is extra.

Me to We was granted $200,000 by the BC Liberal government according to an April 11, 2013 announcement from the Education Ministry. Half the funds were earmarked to Me to We's Stand Up! Leadership Program on bullying response and prevention in 10 communities; anti-bullying is Clark's pet cause.

The other half of the grant was earmarked for the Oct. 18, 2013 We Day rally at Rogers Arena. Clark appeared at the day-long concert with Free The Children co-founders Craig and Marc Kielburger, former United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan, Kenyan Boys' Choir, Avril Lavigne and Hedley.

"There's been a tendency by governments everywhere to provide these types of grants that aren't necessarily large, but are significant to the groups involved, without ensuring there is a proper analysis for the outcome of the investment," Travis said.

North Vancouver-based journalist Bob Mackin has reported for local, regional, national and international media outlets since he began as a journalist in 1990.

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