Court orders lobbying watchdog to reopen probe into Aga Khan over Bahamas vacation controversy
The new lobbying commissioner must investigate the Aga Khan and whether his activities should be considered lobbying in connection with a controversial 2016 vacation accepted by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on the leader’s private island in the Bahamas.
That comes after the Federal Court released a ruling on an application by the advocacy group Democracy Watch that was launched in 2018 and asked the court to order the lobbying commissioner to investigate, which the former watchdog had refused to do.
Democracy Watch had argued then-lobbying commissioner Karen Shepherd erred in dismissing the matter based on her interpretation that because the Aga Khan was not paid to lobby on behalf of his foundation, his activities and the offer of a private vacation on his island could not be considered lobbying.
The Federal Court called that ruling “unreasonable” and criticized the interpretation of the law that underscored Shepherd’s decision not to investigate as “a narrow, technical, and targeted analysis that is lacking in transparency, justification, and intelligibility when considered in the context the Commissioner’s duties and functions.”
WATCH BELOW: PM Trudeau apologizes for ethics violation in Aga Khan vacation
The new lobbying commissioner, Nancy Bélanger, is now ordered to re-examine the actions of everyone at the Aga Khan’s foundation, which gets millions in government grants and is registered to lobby multiple government departments.
Shortly after Shepherd’s decision not to investigate whether lobbying rules were broken, the federal ethics commissioner found that Trudeau violated multiple ethics rules in accepting the private vacation for himself and his family.
“The Foundation was registered to lobby the Office of the Prime Minister at that time. For these reasons, I determined that the vacations accepted by Mr. Trudeau or his family might reasonably be seen to have been given to influence Mr. Trudeau,” then-ethics commissioner Mary Dawson wrote in her 2017 report into the controversy.
In response to the ruling from the Federal Court on Tuesday, Trudeau said little.
“We trust in the processes in place and respect the work that the court and the lobbying commissioner will do,” he told reporters when asked about ruling ordering a new probe.
That Bahamas trip was the first vacation by a prime minister to face investigation over violations of federal ethics rules.
Dawson’s office was created in 2006 by the former Conservative government.
So far, Trudeau’s government has faced five ethics investigations in three and a half years, including the Bahamas trip.
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