Trudeau’s Vacation Broke Ethics Rules, Canadian Commissioner Says

Updated on
  • Canadian prime minister traveled to private island in Bahamas
  • Trudeau says accepting invitation from friend was a mistake

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meets with the Aga Khan on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, May 17, 2016. 

Photographer: Sean Kilpatrick/CP via AP Photo

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau broke conflict of interest rules when he and his family vacationed on a Bahamas island owned by the Aga Khan, a parliamentary commissioner said.

Trudeau violated sections of the act by accepting the Aga Khan’s “gift of hospitality” last year, Mary Dawson, the country’s ethics commissioner, said in a report released on Wednesday. The government had ongoing business with the spiritual leader of Ismaili Muslims when the invitations were accepted, and the Aga Khan Foundation was registered to lobby the prime minister’s office.

The vacations “could reasonably be seen to have been given to influence Mr. Trudeau in his capacity as prime minister,” Dawson said. Trudeau contravened the act “when members of his family accepted the Aga Khan’s gift of hospitality and the use of his private island” in March and December 2016.

The report will fuel opposition attacks against an already embattled Liberal government. Finance Minister Bill Morneau recently announced he sold shares in the pension company he used to run amid criticism for how he handled his personal finances after getting elected.

“I take full responsibility for this,” Trudeau told reporters in Ottawa, later calling the travel to the island in the Bahamas a mistake. “I should have taken precautions, including my family vacation.”

Read how Trudeau skipped Davos this year amid early reports on Aga Khan

Dawson will provide a report to the Speaker of the House of Commons, who will then present it to the house after it reconvenes in January. Her office has the power to issue “compliance orders” when problems emerge, and Trudeau said he will work more closely with the commissioner in the future.

“These are signs of a government and a prime minister that are just out of touch,” New Democratic Party Leader Jagmeet Singh said from Toronto. Dawson began her investigation after receiving a letter this year from Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, who said the vacations constituted a gift.

The prime minister contravened another section of the act when he didn’t recuse himself from discussions that “provided an opportunity to improperly further the private interest associated with one of the institutions of the Aga Khan,” Dawson said in the report.

Not Friends

She ruled a potential exception for interactions between friends doesn’t apply since the relationship was based partly on ties between the Aga Khan and Trudeau’s father, former prime minister Pierre Trudeau, developed decades ago. There were no “private interactions” between Justin Trudeau and the Aga Khan until he became Liberal Party leader, Dawson said.

She concluded Trudeau didn’t contravene one set of conflict rules that prohibit a lawmakers from accepting a gift that may have been given to influence the exercise of his or her duty. The prime minister “has not discussed any House of Commons business with the Aga Khan or his representatives,” she said. “As well, there was no evidence that Mr. Trudeau participated in any debate or vote in the House of Commons related to the Aga Khan or his institution.”

However, under another, similar set of rules, Dawson did find wrongdoing. She concluded that because of “ongoing official business” between the government and the Aga Khan at the time each invitation was accepted, Trudeau “was in a position to be able to advance some of the matters of interest to the Aga Khan.”

The Aga Khan is involved in a foundation that works in Canada and has received government funding in the past. There was no evidence showing Trudeau had any involvement in decisions around financing a C$15 million ($12 million) grant that the foundation was interested in, Dawson’s report said. The grant had already been supported by the previous government.

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