Ethics watchdog asked to investigate whether Justin Trudeau’s Bahamian vacation broke law

The Aga Khan, spiritual leader of the world's 15-million Shia Ismaili Muslims, receives a standing ovation from the House of Commons, on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Thursday February 27, 2014.
The Aga Khan, spiritual leader of the world's 15-million Shia Ismaili Muslims, receives a standing ovation from the House of Commons, on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Thursday February 27, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand

The federal ethics watchdog has been sent a request to look into Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s recent vacation to a private Bahamian island belonging to the Aga Khan.

“I am writing to you regarding the acceptance by the prime minister of a private gift, namely a Caribbean vacation, given to him by a private individual,” Conservative MP and leadership hopeful Andrew Scheer wrote to Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson in a letter dated Jan. 8.

In a statement released Monday, Scheer said it is his belief that the prime minister should be held to the highest standard that prompted his call for this investigation.

READ MORE: Do Canadians need to know where the prime minister is vacationing?

“We need to know if it is appropriate for Trudeau to accept gifts from someone whose foundation receives funds from the Government of Canada,” he said.

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Last year, the Aga Khan Foundation received more than $47 million from the federal government, according to lobbying records.

Between 2012 and 2017, the Aga Khan Foundation Canada received $75 million from Global Affairs Canada to fund the Partnership for Advancing Human Development in Africa and Asia and $40 million between 2012 and 2015 for improving maternal, newborn and child health in Afghanistan, according to Charity Intelligence Canada.

The same site notes the foundation will be receiving $55 million from 2016 to 2020 for Global Affairs’ Health Action Plan for Afghanistan project.

The Conflict of Interest Act, which guides public office holders, states “neither a member [of Parliament] nor a member’s family shall accept, directly or indirectly, any gift or other benefit, except compensation authorized by law, that might reasonably be seen to have been given to influence the member in the exercise of a duty or function of his or her office.”

READ MORE: Trudeau makes the tabloids for his family vacation on small Caribbean island

Scheer has asked the ethics commissioner to investigate whether the invitation to the private island constitutes a gift and if Trudeau, in accepting the offer, violated any provisions in the act.

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The Aga Khan, the hereditary spiritual leader of the world’s approximately 15 million Ismaili Muslims and a renowned philanthropist, invited Trudeau, his family and a few friends to Bell Island.

A spokesman for the prime minister noted last week the Aga Khan and Trudeau have been close family friends for many years.

READ MORE: Trudeau will reimburse government for partial costs of family travel to Caribbean resort

The Aga Khan founded one of the world’s largest development agencies, the Aga Khan Development Network, dedicated to enhancing progress in underdeveloped regions of the world.

In 2009, then-prime minister Stephen Harper bestowed honorary citizenship on the Aga Khan.

For security reasons, prime ministers are obligated to travel using the government’s Challenger jet; Trudeau’s office has said he will, as is customary, refund taxpayers the equivalent of economy air fares to and from Nassau, Bahamas.

When news broke in the National Post last week of the prime minister’s vacation spot, other Conservative leadership candidates were quick to weigh in.

Lisa Raitt described Trudeau’s actions as “mind numbing,” and wondered aloud whether he thinks he’s above the “clear rules” on lobbying and ethics.

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Kellie Leitch, meanwhile, said Trudeau “clearly tried to hide his whereabouts,” adding the apparent breach should be investigated.

The Prime Minister’s Office was hesitant to release any information about the Trudeau family’s whereabouts earlier this month, eventually disclosing only that they were flown to Naussau after repeated questioning from reporters.

With files from The Canadian Press