Trudeau says 'sorry' after watchdog finds he broke ethics rules
OTTAWA – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau broke the federal ethics act when he vacationed at the Aga Khan's private island, the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner has ruled.
On Wednesday, Ethics watchdog Mary Dawson concluded her investigation into the Christmas 2016 trip he took with family and friends to the island in the Bahamas.
Her findings make Trudeau the first prime minister to have been found in contravention of the federal conflict of interest rules. The Conflict of Interest Act came into force in 2006, under former prime minister Stephen Harper.
Responding to Dawson’s report in the House of Commons foyer, Trudeau said he is "sorry" he didn’t take further steps to clear the trip and his dealings with the Aga Khan ahead of time. Trudeau said he will report any family trips in the future.
"We respect and obviously accept the full report of the Commissioner," said Trudeau.
Dawson found that the prime minister broke the Conflict of Interest Act in four ways.
- Failing to arrange his private affairs to avoid being in conflict of interest;
- Accepting the gift of accommodations on the private island, by someone who is registered to lobby his office;
- Travelling on non-commercial aircraft charted by the Aga Khan; and
- Not recusing himself from discussions that provided an opportunity to further the Aga Khan’s interests.
The commissioner said that Trudeau and his family vacationed at the private island twice, once in Dec. 2014, and then the 2016 holiday trip in question. Members of his family and guests also accepted a March 2016 trip.
Trudeau and his family were joined on the Dec. 2016 trip by Liberal MP and now Veterans Affairs Minister Seamus O’Regan and his husband; as well as Liberal Party president Anna Gainey and her husband.
On CTV’s Power Play, O’Regan told host Don Martin that he will let the prime minister's comments on the commissioner’s report stand. "The prime minister is very able in answering these questions directly, and I’ll leave it to him," he said.
The report also notes that a "senior American official of a previous administration" and friends were present during the Dec. 2016 stay.
Dawson also found that when his wife Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau, a friend, and their children vacationed on the island in March 2016, conflict of interest rules were broken when they accepted privately charted air travel from the Aga Khan.
'We will be behaving differently': PM
"Obviously there was a mistake," Trudeau told reporters. "Moving forward, we will be behaving differently."
He said he considered the Aga Khan a close family friend and that’s why he didn’t think to run his trip by the ethics commissioner before going.
The Act allows for some exemptions for gifts from relatives and friends, though in the report Dawson concluded that Trudeau and the Aga Khan cannot be characterized as friends.
"Mr. Trudeau’s relationship with the Aga Khan was based on a family connection rooted in a friendship between the Aga Khan and Mr. Trudeau’s father thirty years earlier. However, there were no private interactions between Mr. Trudeau and the Aga Khan until Mr. Trudeau became Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada," the report states.
The Aga Khan and the Aga Khan Foundation were registered to lobby Trudeau at the time of the Bahamian vacation.
The Canadian foundation of the Ismaili Muslim spiritual leader, the Aga Khan Foundation of Canada, receives tens of millions of dollars a year from the Canadian government for international development work.
"I take full responsibility for it. We need to make sure that the office of the prime minister is without reproach," Trudeau said.
"The vacations accepted by Mr. Trudeau or his family could reasonably be seen to have been given to influence Mr. Trudeau in his capacity as Prime Minister," Dawson said in a news release.
On both occasions, the report states that Trudeaus were told that the Aga Khan and his family “may or may not be present.”
Dawson concluded that this did not suggest that "Mr. Trudeau and the Aga Khan were seeking to fulfil [sic.] opportunities to spend private time together as friends."
In what Dawson titled: "The Trudeau Report," she looked at Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons, which he is subject to as an MP, as well as the Conflict of Interest Act which applies to him as prime minister.
Her findings were long anticipated, after the Conservatives filed formal complaints with her office. Some of the allegations of rule infractions referenced in those complaints were deemed not broken.
Dawson’s term is up Jan. 8, after holding the job for over a decade. She is also probing Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s possible conflict of interest over his sponsorship of pension bill, C-27.
If Dawson does not complete her reports on these matters before her departure, it will be up to her replacement Mario Dion, to determine whether he will continue to pursue, drop, or reevaluate the investigations.
Aside from having it on the public record that the prime minister broke federal conflict of interest rules, it is not anticipated that Trudeau will face any penalties for these infractions.
Opposition leaders say Trudeau needs to do better
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said while he accepts Trudeau’s apology, it'sunfortunate it took a year for the issue to come to a close.
"Justin Trudeau needs to recognize that when he occupies the prime minister’s seat, it is not enough to simply comply with the law – something that Justin Trudeau didn’t even do in this case, but to be better… to answer questions fully, and to tell the truth," Scheer said.
He said it's up to the prime minister and no one else to make sure he’s following the law.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said it’s "troubling" that Trudeau acted as if the rules didn’t apply to him.
"These are all signs of a government and a prime minister that are just out of touch, and don’t get the realities that Canadians have to deal with," said Singh.