The only other person to have investigated the Prime Minister under the Conflict of Interest Act says his public apology this week presents a “fairly certain finding of a contravention.”
Mary Dawson, the former Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner of Canada who served in the role from 2007 through 2018, says she does not want to make predictions or step on the toes of the current ethics commissioner –Mario Dion. But in an interview with Global News, Dawson says while Justin Trudeau’s upcoming interview with Dion is most important, that public apology makes a difference.
Dion is investigating Trudeau over the decision to award the WE Charity a contract to administer a federal student grant program worth more than $900 million. Trudeau’s family members have received hundreds of thousands of dollars for speaking fees from the organization.
“I made a mistake in not recusing myself immediately from the discussions given our family’s history. I am sincerely sorry about not having done that,” Trudeau told reporters Monday.
“It’s the admission that he feels that he has failed to recuse, which is a requirement of the Act. So he’s effectively said, ‘I’ve not followed the Act,’ as far as I can see,” Dawson said.
Dawson points to Section 21 of the Act, which says “a public office holder shall recuse himself or herself from any discussion, decision, debate or vote on any matter in respect of which he or she would be in a conflict of interest.”
“So it suggests there’s probably at least one other contravention as well, because the main contravention would be the conflict of interest,” Dawson explained.
Section 6 of the Act details no public office holder can participate in decision making if he or she “knows or reasonably should know that, in the making of the decision, he or she would be in a conflict of interest.”
The WE case marks the third time Trudeau will face the ethics commissioner’s scrutiny.
In her 2017 report, Dawson found Trudeau contravened the Act over his vacation to the Aga Khan’s private island. (In that case, the Prime Minister only apologized after the report came out.)
In the “Trudeau II Report” released August 2019, current commissioner Dion found Trudeau contravened the Act again over the SNC Lavalin affair.
Dawson says people may not know the investigation process functions much like a judicial case. There is a court reporter present during all interviews to record what happens.
“One had to be very careful – it’s people’s reputations. And so one had to look into it carefully and make sure you had the proper facts.”
She says having the Prime Minister in the hot seat didn’t make any difference.
“All I can say is the Act applied to the Prime Minister equally with everyone else … it was like any other case effectively.”
It took Dawson a year to complete her report and she retired, as planned, afterward. She tells Global News she was not expecting the Prime Minister to face two subsequent investigations in the years since.