Saturday, January 28, 2017

Canada's ethics commissioner to investigate Trudeau family vacation on private Bermuda island.

Mary Dawson, Canada's ethics commissioner said that she was satisfied that a letter to her by Conservative ethics critic Blain Calkins brought up issues regarding a Trudeau family vacation that met the requirement for an investigation.

The Trudeau family took a vacation to the private island home of the rich philanthropist and spiritual leader Aga Khan in Bermuda:
Aga Khan is also transliterated as Aqa Khan and Agha Khan;[1] born 13 December 1936) is the 49th and current Imam of Nizari Ismailism, a denomination of Isma'ilism within Shia Islam consisting of an estimated 25 million adherents (about 20% of the world's Shia Muslim population).[2][3][4][5] The Aga Khan is a British[6] business magnate,[2][7][8][9] racehorse owner and breeder.[7][10]His worth is estimated at around $800 million USD. Aga Khan was the first faith leader to address a session of the Canadian parliament on the 27th of February 2014. He has received honorary degrees from several Canadian universities.
The Conservative MP pointed out to Dawson that the visit pointed to potential violation of the Conflict of Interest Act. Trudeau used the philanthropists private helicopter and accepted hospitality from a "friend" whose foundation receives millions of dollars in funds from the federal government. Dawson said: "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."
The National Post reported that Trudeau and his family went to Khan's Bell Island for a post-Xmas family vacation. Trudeau confirmed they were flown to the island by Khan's private helicopter. The Prime Minister's Office(PMO) also confirmed that others were guests on the trip including Liberal MP Seamus O'Regan and his husband Steve Douss, and President of the Liberal Party, Anna Gainey and her husband.
Section 11 of the Conflict of Interest Act prohibits office holders from accepting gifts that could be seen as influencing the recipent with respect to an official power, duty, or function. An exception is if the gift is part of a protocol or is from a relative or friend. Section 12 forbids ministers from accepting travel on non-commercial or private aircraft for any purpose unless it is required by his or her position, unless there are exceptional circumstances or with prior approval of the Commissioner. The Liberal government's own guidelines also do not allow sponsored travel unless it is "exceptional circumstance and only with the prior approval of the ethics commissioner." Trudeau admits he did not go to the ethics commission before he took his trip.
NDP leader Thomas Mulcair and NDP ethics critic Alexandre Bouleric also wrote to Dawson calling the trip deeply disturbing and asking her to expedite part of the investigation. Their letter read in part: "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. 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." The maximum penalty that Trudeau could face for violation of this section of the act is a "notice of violation". However, it would enable opposition politicians to claim that Trudeau's action brings into question the government's commitment to ethical conduct and transparency. The office of the ethics commissioner was established in 2007 by then Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Trudeau will be able to argue that his travel by private helicopter to Bell Island involved exceptional circumstances since he claims travel to the island "only happens through private means". Trudeau pointed out that Khan was a long time friend of his family and had been a pallbearer at his father's funeral. Calkins asked whether given Trudeau's friendship with Khan that he should recuse himself when the government was dealing with the Agha Khan Development Network(AKDN). For Trudeau, Khan's being a friend allows him to accept the gift.
The AKDN has received millions of dollars for projects from both the Liberal and Conservative government. The most recent grant was for $55 million to improve health services in Afghanistan. It was announced by the Trudeau government. The vacation certainly raises questions of conflict of interest involving Trudeau.

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