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Democracy Watch case going ahead vs. Lobbying Commissioner rulings letting off lobbyists who helped Chrystia Freeland win election, then lobbied her officials and staff

Lobbying Commissioner trying to hide details of her investigation and ruling – judge will decide what Commissioner has to disclose

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch announced that the Federal Court rejected the Trudeau government’s motion requesting that the court stop the cases Democracy Watch filed in August 2020 challenging the federal Commissioner of Lobbying’s rulings about lobbyists Ben Bergen and Dana O’Born of the Council of Canadian Innovators (CCI).

The cases are continuing, and the next step is that the Commissioner is trying to stop the court and Democracy Watch from seeing the details of her investigation and findings that led to her ruling. Under the Lobbying Act, investigations are conducted in private, but under Federal Court rules the Commissioner is required to disclose the record of her investigation so that the court can fully review whether it was conducted properly, and whether the rulings were also proper.

The Commissioner and Democracy Watch will file their submissions on the investigation disclosure issue over the next month, and then the court will issue its ruling sometime after that. Democracy Watch is represented by Andrew Montague-Reinholdt and Rhian Foley of Nelligan O’Brien Payne LLP. The cases are Federal Court file nos. T-915-20 and T-916-20.

Lobbying Commissioner Nancy Bélanger ruled in March 2020, a completely unjustifiable delay of almost three years after Democracy Watch filed its complaint, that Mr. Bergen and Ms. O’Born did not violate Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct rules 6, 8, 9 or 10 which prohibit assisting a politician in any significant way and then lobbying their office or officials afterwards, even though they:

  1. co-managed Chrystia Freeland’s 2015 election campaign;
  2. continued to work in senior roles with her riding association post-election, and;
  3. then were hired for the top positions at CCI and lobbied in 2017 Freeland’s then-Parliamentary Secretary David Lametti, her office staff, and senior officials in her then-International Trade department, including deputy ministers, assistant deputy ministers and special assistants.

Democracy Watch’s case argues that Bergen and O’Born’s lobbying violated Lobbyists’ Code rules.

“The federal lobbying ethics code prohibits anyone from lobbying a Cabinet minister or their officials for four years after helping them get elected or assisting them in a significant way, and so Lobbying Commissioner Bélanger should have found Minister Freeland’s former election campaign managers guilty of violating the code given they lobbied many senior officials in Minister Freeland’s former department before four years had passed,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch.

“By letting the CCI lobbyists off the hook, and issuing other similarly weak rulings in recent years letting off other unethical lobbyists, Lobbying Commissioner Nancy Bélanger is continuing the negligent enforcement record of her predecessor Karen Shepherd who let off 84% of the lobbyists who violated the law during her decade as commissioner,” said Conacher.

The case was delayed in fall 2020 waiting for the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) to decide whether to allow DWatch to appeal the Federal Court of Appeal’s ruling on its case challenging former Lobbying Commissioner Karen Shepherd’s decision not to investigate the Aga Khan for giving Justin Trudeau’s family and friends a trip to his private Bahamas island. Incredibly, the FCA ruled that the public had no right to have a complaint ruled on by the Commissioner, and therefore no right to challenge a decision not to investigate a complaint.

The SCC decided not to hear DWatch’s appeal. However, the Bergen and O’Born cases are different because the Commissioner issued final rulings under section 10.5 of the Lobbying Act after investigating. In contrast, in the Aga Khan case, the Commissioner refused to investigate under subsection 10.4(1) of the Act.

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

Democracy Watch’s Government Ethics Campaign