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Democracy Watch filing court case against Ethics Commissioner challenging bias and rulings on ministers’ investments

Democracy Watch already has two court cases against the Ethics Commissioner – one challenging her illegal ethics screens, and the other challenging the six-month, renewable contract handed to her by the Trudeau Cabinet in June

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch confirmed that it will file a new court case against federal Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson because she has failed to recuse herself from investigating complaints about Finance Minister Bill Morneau, and because she made a legally incorrect decision to allow Morneau and other ministers to keep owning investments while they are in Cabinet.

In an open letter sent last Wednesday, Democracy Watch called for an investigation by an independent person of Minister Morneau’s failure to issue public statements (as required under subsection 25(1) of the Act) containing details about at least two recusals that the Minister himself admitted to recently.

The NDP has also filed a complaint requesting that the Ethics Commissioner investigate whether Minister Morneau violated the Conflict of Interest Act by participating in the development of Bill C-27, a bill that, if enacted, would help his family company and benefit the company’s shares that he owns and is finally planning to sell.

In its letter, Democracy Watch requested that the Ethics Commissioner recuse herself from ruling on the Morneau situation and delegate the complaints to an independent person.  The Ethics Commissioner has continued to address the Morneau situation, including meeting with Minister Morneau last Thursday.

The Ethics Commissioner is biased in making future decisions given that she advised Minister Morneau that a blind trust was not needed, and established a conflict of interest “screen” for him, and is essentially serving at the pleasure of the Trudeau Cabinet on a six-month, renewable contract.  All that Democracy Watch has to prove in court is that a reasonable, informed person would conclude that it is likely that the Ethics Commissioner, consciously or unconsciously, will not investigate and rule on the Morneau complaints fairly.

The Alberta Ethics Commissioner recused herself last year from investigating a case in which she had a bias and assigned the case to the B.C. ethics commissioner.

“The Ethics Commissioner is refusing to admit she is biased even though the Trudeau Cabinet handed her a six-month contract worth $100,000 last June, so Democracy Watch hopes its court case will finally stop her from making biased, incorrect bad rulings that allow Cabinet ministers to act unethically,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch.

Democracy Watch court case will also challenge the Ethics Commissioner’s decision that Morneau and other ministers did not need to set up a blind trust or sell the shares he owned in his family’s company, Morneau Shepell.  Subsection 27(1) of the Act requires ministers, their staff, Cabinet appointees (including Deputy Ministers) and other senior government officials to either sell investments they control (such as shares in a family company) or place them in a blind trust, and the section 20 definition of “controlled assets” is clearly broad enough to cover the investment scheme that Morneau set up for his Morneau Shepell shares.

Instead of requiring Minister Morneau to sell the shares or put them in a blind trust, Ethics Commissioner Dawson allowed him to set up what she calls a conflict of interest “screen” that, she claims, prevents him from taking part in discussions and decisions if he has a conflict of interest. In fact, the Ethics Commissioner’s screens are smokescreens that allow Cabinet ministers and others to take part in almost all decisions even if they have a financial interest and could profit from the decision.

Similar “screens” allow many other Cabinet ministers, ministerial staff and senior government officials to make decisions that affect their families, friends, and their own financial investments, which is why Democracy Watch has challenged the Ethics Commissioner’s smokescreens in court because they are illegal under the Act.

Democracy Watch has also filed a court case challenging the Ethics Commissioner for being in a conflict of interest because the Trudeau Cabinet’s re-appointed her last June to her third six-month interim term — so she is essentially currently serving at the pleasure of the Trudeau Cabinet.

More than 10,000 Canadians have signed a petition supporting Democracy Watch call for federal parties to work together to change the appointment process for the Ethics Commissioner, and all officers of Parliament and judicial and watchdog positions, to make it actually merit-based and independent from Cabinet, and to prohibit reappointments.

Minister Morneau’s blind trust, like all blind trusts, will be a sham because he will still know that he owns the investments that he puts in the trust, and he is also allowed under subsection 27(4) to choose his trustee, and is allowed under subsection 27(5) to give them instructions concerning the investments in the trust.

“Loopholes in the federal ethics law allow ministers and other senior government officials to own investments they know about, and to make decisions that make them money,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch.  “To be ethical, Prime Minister Trudeau and all other Cabinet ministers and senior government officials should be required to sell their investments and buy term deposits or government bonds until they leave office, and to not to take part in any discussions or decisions that directly or indirectly affect their relatives’ or friends’ businesses or investments.” 

Democracy Watch has called repeatedly since 2007 for these huge loopholes in the Conflict of Interest Act to be closed.  “It really should be called the ‘Almost Impossible to be in a Conflict of Interest Act,’” said Conacher.

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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 Bad Government Appointments Campaign