Canada’s ethics commissioner launched an investigation into PM Trudeau’s family vacation to Bahamas at the Aga Khan’s private island home.
In a letter to Conservative ethics critic Blain Calkins that is stamped “Confidential”, Mary Dawson said she is “satisfied” the issues he has raised about Trudeau’s travel meet the requirements for an investigation.
Last week, the MP wrote to Dawson pointing to potential violations of the Conflict of Interest Act related to the prime minister’s use of the billionaire philanthropist’s private helicopter and his acceptance of hospitality from a “friend” whose foundation receives millions of dollars in funds from the federal government.
“I have therefore commenced an examination under subsection 44(3) of the Act to determine whether Mr. Trudeau has contravened sections 11 and 12 of the Act in connection with his recent stay at and travel to the Aga Khan’s privately owned island. I will also examine whether Mr. Trudeau may have contravened his obligations under sections 6 and 21 of the Act.”
As first reported by the National Post, Trudeau and his family stayed at the Aga Khan’s home on Bell Island in the Bahamas for a post-Christmas family vacation. He publicly confirmed last week they were taken there by the Aga Khan’s private helicopter.
Friends join family trip
The PMO has also confirmed that Liberal MP Seamus O’Regan and his husband, Steve Doussis, as well as Liberal Party president Anna Gainey and her husband, Tom Pitfield, were guests on the trip.
Section 11 of the Conflict of Interest Act prohibits office holders from accepting gifts that might be seen to influence the recipient in an official power, duty or function, unless the gift is part of protocol or is from a relative or friend.
Section 12 bars ministers from accepting travel on non-commercial chartered or private aircraft for any purpose unless it is required in his or her capacity as a public office holder or in exceptional circumstances or with prior approval of the Commissioner.
Sections 6 and 21 require public office holders to recuse themselves from discussion, decision, debate or vote on any matter in which they may be in conflict of interest.
The prime minister’s own Open and Accountable Government guidelines also restrict sponsored travel unless it is “exceptional circumstances and only with the prior approval” of the ethics commissioner.
The prime minister said he did not go to the ethics commissioner before his trip.
Reimbursement for use of government plane
Last week, the Canadian Armed Forces said Trudeau had reimbursed $4,895.94 for personal use of the Challenger aircraft on Dec. 26, 2016, to fly to Nassau. That is standard practice for personal use of the government plane.
The reimbursement was to cover travel for Trudeau, his wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, their three children and nanny Nancy Peuyo.
NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair and NDP ethics critic Alexandre Boulerice wrote a letter to Dawson, calling the developments “deeply disturbing” and asking her to expedite part of the investigation to defend the importance of the act.
“We recognize that a full investigation of the inappropriate trip may take some time, but the use of private aircraft is a clear-cut violation that could be addressed more swiftly,” the letter reads.
“We are therefore requesting that you fast track this piece of your investigation and that you make a clear declaration that the Prime Minister has broken the law.”
No penalty for potential ethics violations
Provisions which allow for a $500 fine for violations of the act do not apply to the sections in question. That means the maximum penalty Trudeau could face is a “notice of violation,” though a finding of a breach of the act would provide ammunition for the opposition parties to question the prime minister’s commitment to transparency and ethical conduct.
Trudeau is the second prime minister to face a review by the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner of Canada, which was established in 2007 under then Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
In October 2009, the commissioner received a letter from then Liberal MP Martha Hall Findlay that asked her to investigate alleged ethics breaches by Harper, various ministers, parliamentary secretaries and ministerial staff. The allegations were in connection with the publicity and communication strategy to promote the government’s Economic Action Plan.