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13-Year-Old Child-Labor Activist Threatens Magazine With Libel Suit

November 22, 1996 GMT

TORONTO (AP) _ A 13-year-old who has received international attention for his fight against child labor filed a libel complaint Thursday against a Canadian magazine that questioned his sincerity and fund-raising activities.

Craig Kielburger and his Free the Children organization first attracted attention last year during a visit to India that coincided with a trade mission by Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien. The boy met with Chretien and persuaded him to raise the issue of child labor with Indian officials.

Since then, Kielburger has met Mother Teresa, Vice President Al Gore and Mikhail Gorbachev. He has been profiled on the CBS show ``60 Minutes″ and has appeared before two U.S. congressional committees.

A cover story in the November issue of Saturday Night, a monthly magazine, dubbed Kielburger ``the most powerful 13-year-old in the world″ and raised questions about the teenager’s fund-raising.

``Saturday Night can use their magazine to mock me and to make fun of Free the Children,″ Kielburger told a news conference. ``But they must and will be held accountable for the damaging lies which they represent as being truths.″

The 9th-grader said the article has prompted people to call asking if he is embezzling funds.

Kielburger’s lawyer, Robert Rueter, said a libel notice had been served to Saturday Night as a first step toward launching a lawsuit.

The magazine’s editor, Kenneth Whyte, defended the story as ``a great piece of journalism.″ It was written by Isabel Vincent.

``Clearly, Isabel Vincent and the editors of Saturday Night magazine had an agenda from the beginning: To portray me as a spoiled brat, my mother as a driven opportunist and the proposals of Free the Children as being hopelessly naive,″ Kielburger said.

A key bone of contention is a suggestion that money donated to Free the Children goes to the Kielburger family and that Free the Children is not a legally registered charity.

Kielburger and a Free the Children accountant said those accusations are false.