RCMP ‘fesses up 817 days later: Planning for Trudeau’s Bahamas trip began months in advance
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s RCMP handlers were vetting The Bahamas as a vacation destination for the prime minister at least nine months before Trudeau took his family on the 2016-2017 Christmas vacation that would cause so much controversy, according to a new document provided to Global News as a result of a request under federal records laws filed more than two years ago.
The new document, in combination with other information published by parliament’s ethics commissioner late in 2017, establishes that the planning for Trudeau’s trip to The Bahamas island owned by the Aga Khan appears to have started earlier than previously thought, a finding which raises, yet again, questions about the judgment of senior political and bureaucratic aides serving the prime minister — aides who, over the months ahead of the trip, never appeared to warn Trudeau of his obligations under the federal Conflict of Interest Act.
Trudeau would later become the first prime minister in history to break a federal law while in office when parliament’s Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner ruled in December, 2017 that, in accepting the gift of a free vacation on a private Bahamas island and free travel in a non-government aircraft, Trudeau violated four provisions of the Conflict of Interest Act.
WATCH: Records gathered by Global News through Access to Information request detail complexity in arranging Trudeau family’s Bahamas vacation
“I am not surprised that more information is coming forward on Prime Minister Trudeau’s trip to billionaire island,” said Charlie Angus, the NDP MP from the Ontario riding of Timmins–James Bay who is his party’s ethics critic.
“This was the first inkling we had of a leader who would not give a straight answer about clear breaches of his ethical obligations. Many people wrote it off to a lack of experience. We now know it was rooted in a much deeper problem — that Justin Trudeau simply doesn’t believe that the rule of law applies to him.”
Two of the three top aides advising the prime minister through 2016 when he was planning his trip have since left or are leaving their post because of the Jody Wilson-Raybould/SNC-Lavalin matter: Trudeau’s principal secretary and close friend Gerald Butts resigned earlier this year and the country’s top civil servant, Michael Wernick, announced plans to retire, effective April 19, in the wake of testimony he gave at a House of Commons committee on Wilson-Raybould.
Trudeau’s Chief of Staff Katie Telford is the other top aide and she remains on the job.
But the fact that it took more than two years — 817 days, in fact — for the new document to be produced also underlines the failure of Canada’s national police force to discharge its responsibilities under another federal law, the Access to Information Act.
On Jan. 5, 2017, Global News filed nearly identical Access to Information Act requests to the Privy Council Office (PCO), the Department of National Defence (DND) and the RCMP, each one asking for details about the costs and methods used to support the prime minister and his family on The Bahamas trip.
The PCO and DND filed complete responses to Global News’ requests in 2017.
The RCMP, on the other hand, failed to even acknowledge the original request, failed to acknowledge several e-mails about the status of the request, and only acknowledged the requests after telephone calls to its media relations department. Still, the RCMP could only provide a partial release of records 232 days after the original request, another partial release 664 days after the original request, and the final release of records 817 days later on April 2.
Federal law requires institutions like the RCMP to respond to requests within 30 days.
WATCH: PM Trudeau apologizes for ethics violation in Aga Khan vacation
Parliament’s Information Commissioner Caroline Maynard, in her 2017-18 annual report, noted that “The RCMP has consistently been amongst the top five institutions with the greatest number of complaints filed against it over the past five years.” Most of those involved complaints that the RCMP violated the Access to Information Act when it comes to delays in producing records.
The RCMP did not respond to an e-mailed request to its media relations department early Tuesday to explain why it took 817 days to respond to the Global News request made on Jan 5, 2017.
The Prime Minister’s Office, on the other hand, did respond to e-mailed questions Tuesday, but a PMO press secretary, Eleanore Catenaro, said the PMO had nothing more to add about the matter.
The document released to Global News 817 days later was prepared by the Canadian Forces Intelligence Command and was sent over to the RCMP’s protective services unit, the unit that provides security services to the prime minister and his family. The document is a “travel medicine brief,” a routine document that outlines potential health hazards for travelling VIPs and provides an inventory of various medical facilities should they be required.
The document is dated March 11, 2016.
In December 2017, the ethics commissioner noted that Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau, with her children, vacationed on the Aga Khan’s island, without the prime minister, from March 11 to March 17, 2016.
The March 11, 2016 “Travel Medicine Brief” provided to Global News, though, was provided in response to a specific request for records associated with the deployment of the prime minister’s protective unit to the Bahamas from Nov 1, 2016 to Jan 7, 2017, not about about Gregoire-Trudeau’s travel without her husband.
“The decision to go on holiday was obviously made well in advance of March 11, given the research required to produce this document,” Conservative MP Blaine Calkins said Tuesday. Calkins, who represents the Alberta riding of Red Deer–Lacombe, was one of two Conservative MPs (the other was current leader Andrew Scheer) whose complaints to the ethics commissioner led to the historic ruling that the prime minister violated the conflict of interest law.
“The team around Trudeau had this information well in advance of the vacation itself, yet Trudeau still managed to fumble his way into being found to violate the … Act four times,” said Calkins.