Justin Trudeau fails his ethics test

December 23, 2017

On March 11, 2016, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, along with a friend of hers and their children, arrived at Bells Cay, the private Caribbean island owned by the Aga Khan, for a week-long holiday.


On March 11, 2016, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, along with a friend of hers and their children, arrived at Bells Cay, the private Caribbean island owned by the Aga Khan, for a week-long holiday.

Other than the return flights from Canada to Nassau, Bahamas, the Aga Khan picked up the tab, including the cost of a chartered seaplane from Nassau to Bells Cay and back.

On March 9, just two days before the wife of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau left for her Caribbean getaway, a representative of the Aga Khan contacted the Prime Minister's Office to request a formal meeting between the two men to discuss, among other things, a pending $15-million federal grant to the Global Centre for Pluralism, an Ottawa-based pet project of the Aga Khan.

The meeting was held on May 17. During it, Mr. Trudeau reaffirmed the government's commitment to the grant. On July 10, the Minister of International Development, Marie-Claude Bibeau, approved the money.

That same month, Ms. Grégoire Trudeau asked the daughter of the Aga Khan if she could return to Bells Cay for the Christmas holidays with her husband and children. She was told that they would be welcome.

Come Christmas, the Prime Minister and his family were once again holidaying at the expense of someone seeking and getting financial assistance from the government, and whose organization, the Aga Khan Foundation Canada, was registered to lobby the Prime Minister. The trip also included a free helicopter ride from Nassau to Bells Cay and back.

All of these facts are found in the damning report that the federal conflict of interest and ethics commissioner, Mary Dawson, released in Ottawa on Wednesday. In it, Ms. Dawson says the Prime Minister violated multiple sections of the Conflict of Interest Act in his dealings with the Aga Khan.

He should not, as Prime Minister, have accepted two free vacations from a person who was actively pursuing government funding.

He should have recused himself from the May 2016 meeting with the Aga Khan, and from a discussion with the Privy Council prior to the meeting to go over the details of it.

And he was wrong not to have notified the ethics commissioner about his wife's free seaplane trip to the island, and his helicopter ride at Christmas.

Ms. Dawson says the PM didn't directly participate in making decisions related to the interests of the Aga Khan – the one mistake he, thankfully, avoided. Had he not, the next investigation might have been the RCMP's.

Mr. Trudeau has been under fire ever since he was forced to admit, reluctantly, that his unknown whereabouts during the Christmas holiday period last year were, in fact, the Aga Khan's private island.

He spent the year being strangely peevish about the affair, refusing to answer even the most basic questions after Ms. Dawson announced she was a launching an investigation.

What wasn't fully appreciated until now, though, is the degree to which Mr. Trudeau took personal advantage of his relationship with the Aga Khan. It's little wonder that he wanted to say as little as possible about it.

On Wednesday, he continued to insist that his close friendship with the Aga Khan should have exempted him from the Conflict of Interest Act, thanks to a bizarre clause that appears to allows office holders to accept gifts from friends.

But, as Ms. Dawson says, their friendship only blossomed after Mr. Trudeau became Prime Minister.

And who cares if they are friends. There are no circumstances under which a Prime Minister can accept freebies from anyone who does business with the government. It will always look like private benefits are being received by an office-holder, in return for government favour.

Mr. Trudeau is not in the least bit contrite, though, and his response on Wednesday was tone deaf. "For me to look for a place to have a quiet vacation, where I can have quality family time, is something we all look for with our families," he told reporters.

Mr. Trudeau seems to believe his character is so unimpeachable that no one would dare conclude that an apparent conflict of interest on his part could in fact be real.

He showed the same arrogance when he refused, initially, to put an end to the Liberal Party's shameless cash-for-access fundraisers. Now he has gone so far as to break the Conflict of Interest Act, and yet he still seems baffled and put off that anyone would accuse him of wrongdoing.

The Prime Minister needs to gets his moral compass in working order. It has failed him so far.