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Democracy Watch calls on Integrity Commissioner to ensure independent investigation into Ethics Commissioner’s senior lawyer who is Liberal Cabinet Minister Dominic LeBlanc’s sister-in-law

Integrity Commissioner must delegate investigation to a provincial ethics commissioner as Ethics Commissioner is his former boss

Monday, April 15, 2019

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch released the letter it has sent to federal Integrity Commissioner Joe Friday calling on him to ensure an independent investigation into whether federal Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion’s senior lawyer Martine Richard has fully removed herself from all investigations affecting the Trudeau Liberals and opposition parties since she began her position in fall 2013, including the investigation of Democracy Watch’s complaint about the SNC-Lavalin affair. Ethics Commissioner Dion sent Democracy Watch a letter on February 26th confirming his investigation of its complaint.

Democracy Watch is calling for the investigation of Ms. Richard because she heads the Investigations and Legal Services division of Ethics Commissioner Dion’s office, and her sister Jolène is married to Trudeau Cabinet minister Dominic LeBlanc (see also here).

Democracy Watch’s letter also calls for a ruling that Ms. Richard cannot remain in her position, given she has the appearance of bias whether she is investigating Liberals or MPs from other parties, or Conservative ministers, their staff or appointees (from 2013-2015). Her senior position also gives her power over the other people in the division who would investigate situations when she recuses herself, and as a result their actions are also tainted by her appearance of bias.

In addition to Supreme Court of Canada rulings that set high ethical standards requiring government officials to avoid even apparent conflicts of interest, the landmark 1924 British court ruling R. v. Sussex Justices, ex parte McCarthy established the principle that “Not only must justice be done, it must also be seen to be done.” The court ruled that a court clerk who worked for justices who were deciding a case, and had ties to the defendant in the case, created an appearance of bias for the justices just by being their clerk. Even though the justices swore they didn’t talk to the clerk about the case, the clerk’s presence in the justices’ office was enough for the appeal court to rule that the judges had an appearance of bias, and so their ruling was tainted.

The Ethics Commissioner office’s internal ethics code, like the government-wide code, requires all employees to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest, and to resolve any conflict of interest in the public interest. The code also prohibits employees from “granting preferential treatment or advantages to family, friends or any other person or entity” (p. 10). All federal ethics rules define “family” as including family by marriage.

Ethics Commissioner Dion is Integrity Commissioner Friday’s former boss, and for this reason Democracy Watch’s letter also calls on Commissioner Friday to delegate the investigation to a provincial ethics commissioner who has no ties to any political party. Mr. Dion has a record 8 unethical and questionable actions when he was federal Integrity Commissioner, and Mr. Friday never blew the whistle on any of Mr. Dion’s actions.

“The federal Ethics Commissioner’s office has claimed that Ms. Richard has recused herself from investigations affecting the Trudeau Liberals since 2013 but this needs to be confirmed by a fully independent investigation,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “Given Ethics Commissioner Dion is Integrity Commissioner Friday’s former boss, this investigation must be undertaken by a provincial ethics commissioner who is fully independent from the commissioners and from any political party.”

“Democracy Watch’s position is that Ms. Richard cannot remain in her position given she has an ongoing appearance of bias in favour of Liberals and against opposition parties, and investigations and rulings on ethics violations are too important to let them be tainted by this bias,” said Conacher.

Incredibly, it could be that employees in the Ethics Commissioner’s office are exempt from the federal, government-wide Values and Ethics Code for the Public Sector and Policy on Conflict of Interest and Post-Employment, and the office could also be exempt from the requirement to have an internal ethics code set out in section 6 of the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act.

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Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch
Tel: (613) 241-5179 Cell: 416-546-3443
[email protected]

Democracy Watch’s Democracy Watch’s Government Ethics Campaign and Stop Unfair Law Enforcement Campaign and Stop Bad Government Appointments Campaign