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Democracy Watch calls on Ethics Commissioner to initiate inquiry into Nigel Wright, Patrick Rogers, Chris Woodcock and Benjamin Perrin intervening in Senate committee’s audit of Senator Mike Duffy

December 11, 2013

OTTAWA – Today, following its complaint filed last week to the RCMP, and its complaint filed yesterday with the Senate Ethics Officer, Democracy Watch released the letter it has sent to federal Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson requesting that it is Democracy Watch’s opinion that she should initiate an inquiry because it seems that the intervention into the Senate Committee’s audit of Senator Mike Duffy by Nigel Wright, Patrick Rogers, Chris Woodcock and Benjamin Perrin violated the Conflict of Interest Act (the “Act”).  Democracy Watch’s letter also requests an inquiry into Mr. Perrin’s actions of assisting Mr. Wright in making the payment of more than $90,000 to Senator Duffy.

The complaint letter is based on the provisions of the Act, publicly confirmed facts, and the evidence set out in the recently released affidavit of RCMP Corporal Greg Horton.

The big question is whether the Ethics Commissioner will take any action – she has let Nigel Wright off the hook three times already (See details below) – and any timely action as she has already suspended an inquiry into the situation because of the RCMP’s investigation (she is only required to suspend an inquiry under section 49 of the Act if the specific person complained about is the subject of an investigation by a legal authority).

“Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson is legally allowed to investigate and rule right now on the actions of PMO staff who are not being investigated by the RCMP for specific offences, so will she act like a watchdog and investigate now, or continue her weak lapdog enforcement record by failing, as she has more than 80 times, to investigate and rule publicly on a complaint about possible violations of the federal ethics law?” asked Duff Conacher, Board member of Democracy Watch.

“It seems not only that an investigation of Benjamin Perrin helping Nigel Wright negotiate his payment to Senator is warranted, but also investigations seem warranted into the interventions by Mr. Perrin, Mr. Wright and Patrick Rogers and Chris Woodcock in the audit of Senator Duffy which were as bad as contacting a judge and trying to influence the judge’s ruling,” said Conacher.

There is no likelihood that an inquiry by the Ethics Commissioner into the intervention by PMO staff into the Senate committee’s audit of Mike Duffy will negatively affect the RCMP’s investigation of Nigel Wright’s payment to Senator Duffy as all the facts have been publicly disclosed and admitted.  And no police investigation has been confirmed into the actions of Patrick Rogers, Chris Woodcock and Benjamin Perrin, so there is no good reason for the Ethics Officer to refuse to initiate an inquiry into their actions.

The Ethics Commissioner has already initiated an inquiry into whether Nigel Wright’s payment to Senator Duffy of more than $90,000 violated the Act but she suspended that inquiry in July.  As a result, it seems in Democracy Watch’s opinion to be warranted for the Ethics Commissioner to initiate an inquiry into Benjamin Perrin helping Mr. Wright negotiate the payment to Senator Duffy.

Democracy Watch’s opinion is that it seems improper for Nigel Wright, Patrick Rogers, Chris Woodcock and Benjamin Perrin to have intervened in the Senate Committee’s audit of Senator Duffy, and for Mr. Perrin to have assisted Mr. Wright in making the payment to Senator Duffy, for the following reasons:

  • It seems that they either violated sections 4 and 6(1) of the Act because they made a decision “related to the exercise of an official power, duty or function” (ss.6(1)) when they “reasonably should know that, in the making of the decision” he “would be in a conflict of interest” (ss. 6(1)) because the decision provided “an opportunity . . . to improperly further another person’s private interests” (s. 4) – namely Senator Duffy’s private interest in having the results of the audit, and recommended penalties, altered to protect his financial interests (and, concerning Mr. Perrin, his interest in having someone else pay the expenses he owed);
  • As well, given that they intervened in the audit in secret, it seems they also violated section 8 of the Act which prohibits using “information that is obtained in his or her position as a public office holder and that is not available to the public” to further the interest of a friend “or to improperly further or to seek to improperly further another person’s private interests”; and
  • And finally, it seems by intervening in the audit process they also violated section 9 of the Act because they used their “position as a public office holder to seek to influence a decision of another person so as . . . to improperly further another person’s private interests.”

Democracy Watch’s opinion is that it was improper for Nigel Wright, Benjamin Perrin, Patrick Rogers and Chris Woodcock to intervene in the Senate committee’s audit process, and for all of them to obtain and convey information about the audit processes, simply because it is improper for anyone who is not involved in an audit to attempt to influence auditors.

A spokesperson for Deloitte has stated publicly that it is improper for any information about an audit to be given to anyone other than the people involved in the audit – therefore it was, by definition, improper to seek information about the audit, and to try to influence the audit.  Democracy Watch’s opinion is that it is analogous to someone in government contacting a judge of a court or a tribunal in an attempt to influence the judge’s ruling.

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FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT:

Duff Conacher, Board member of Democracy Watch
Tel: 613-241-5179
Cell: 416-546-3443
Email: info@democracywatch.ca



BACKGROUNDER

Federal Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson’s weak enforcement record

Federal Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson has had a very weak enforcement record since 2007, including letting dozens of Conservatives off the hook for very questionable actions, and making more than 80 secret rulings.

Ethics Commissioner Dawson’s first cover-up for Nigel Wright

Commissioner Dawson’s first cover-up for Nigel Wright was her creation of an illegal, so-called ethics screen when Wright first took the job that violated the requirement in subsection 25(1) of the Conflict of Interest Act to make a public declaration within 60 days every time Wright recused himself from a decision-making process because of a conflict of interest.  This “screen” was supposedly enforced by the Deputy Chief of Staff. As a result of this cover-up, all of Wright’s recusals have been kept secret, and there is no way to tell if he ever failed to recuse himself as required by the Act.

Ethics Commissioner Dawson’s second cover-up for Nigel Wright

Commissioner Dawson’s second cover-up for Wright was when she abandoned her investigation last fall without issuing a notice, let alone a ruling, of whether Wright violated the Act by taking part in discussions of issues that affect Barrick Gold.  The Ethics Commissioner is allowed to do this under s. 45 of the Act.  The cover-up only came to light because Canadian Press journalist Joan Bryden pressed Commissioner Dawson to make a public statement about the case.  Commissioner Dawson’s statement failed to set out any reasons why she concluded that Wright had not violated the Act.

Ethics Commissioner Dawson’s third cover-up for Nigel Wright

Commissioner Dawson’s third cover-up for Wright was when she failed to issue a ruling concerning Mr. Wright’s payment to Senator Duffy of more than $90,000, which she could have done easily last June before the RCMP announced its investigation into the payment because the facts of the payment had been public for a month already.

Conflict of Interest Act missing key rules and accountability measures
The Conservatives broke a 2006 election promise (one of their many broken accountability promises) to include key ethics rules in the new Conflict of Interest Act prohibiting dishonesty and being in even an appearance of a conflict of interest, as Prime Minister Harper instead put those rules in his Accountability Guide for ministers and other senior officials so he could ignore the rules (as he has since – see the rules in Annex A, Part 1 of the Guide).

Because of section 66 added to the new Act by the Conservatives in 2006, the Ethics Commissioner’s rulings cannot be challenged in court if she has factual or legal errors in her rulings.  There are no mandatory penalties for violating the ethics rules in the Act.  As well, if Prime Minister Harper approves it, Commissioner Dawson’s term in office can be renewed for another seven years in 2014 so she has an incentive to please him


Democracy Watch’s Government Ethics Campaign