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Democracy Watch in court today challenging former Lobbying Commissioner’s ruling that Aga Khan not covered by lobbying law or code so Bahamas trip gift to PM Trudeau was legal

Former Commissioner Karen Shepherd ignored fact that Aga Khan lobbies for his foundation, which is registered to lobby the federal government, and so his gift caused the foundation to violate the Lobbyists’ Code

Commissioner Shepherd was on a 6-month, renewable contract given by PM Trudeau when she ruled on Aga Khan’s gift, raising questions of bias

Review of federal lobbying law this fall must close secret lobbying loopholes, strengthen enforcement, make Commissioner actually independent, and add high fines as penalties

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch’s court case filed last January challenging the ruling in September 2017 by former Lobbying Commissioner Karen Shepherd that the Aga Khan’s Bahamas trip gift to Prime Minister Trudeau was legal is being heard by the Federal Court in Ottawa.

Commissioner Shepherd’s ruling stated that even though the Aga Khan was lobbying the PM, and is chair of the Aga Khan Foundation, which is registered to lobby the PM, because someone at the Foundation claimed the Aga Khan wasn’t paid to lobby for it, his gift didn’t violate the Lobbying Act nor the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct.

Democracy Watch is arguing before the court that the error of the Lobbying Commissioner’s ruling is that the Aga Khan lobbies the Prime Minister and other federal government institutions and officials and politicians not for himself but for the Aga Khan Foundation. As well, as head of the board of the Foundation, he is legally bound to advance the interests of the Foundation, and likely at least some of his expenses are covered by the Foundation.

As a result, the Lobbying Commissioner should have investigated more fully whether the Aga Khan was paid in any way by the Foundation, and also investigated whether the senior officer of the Foundation did everything he could to try to stop the Aga Khan from giving the gift.

If the Aga Khan was paid, then he was required to be registered as a lobbyist and violated the Lobbying Act by failing to register, and his gift violated the Code. Whether or not the Aga Khan was required to register as a lobbyist, if the senior officer didn’t do everything he could to try to stop the Aga Khan from giving the trip gift, then he violated the Code’s principle that requires upholding the highest ethical standards, and he and the Foundation should be found guilty and prohibited from lobbying the federal government for five years.

As well, Democracy Watch is arguing before the court that Commissioner Shepherd was biased when she made the ruling because, at the time, she was serving on a six-month, sole-source, renewable contract handed to her by the Trudeau Cabinet.

“Democracy Watch is challenging the Lobbying Commissioner’s ruling in court because it is legally incorrect, violates the spirit and purpose of the Lobbyists’ Code, and opens up a huge loophole that big businesses and other organizations will exploit by having their unregistered board members or staff do favours for, and give gifts to, politicians and government officials they are lobbying as a way of unethically influencing their policy making decisions,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “Democracy Watch is also challenging Commissioner Shepherd’s ruling because she was on a six-month, sole-source, renewable contract handed to her by the Prime Minister Trudeau Cabinet at the time she made the ruling, and so she lacked independence and was biased in favour of Trudeau and his Cabinet.”

Although Commissioner Shepherd’s ruling was made in September 2017, it didn’t become public until CBC reported on December 22, 2017 that someone had complained to the Commissioner about the Aga Khan’s trip gift to Trudeau, and had received the Commissioner’s ruling in September.

The Lobbyists’ Code rules 6-10 prohibit lobbyists registered under the Lobbying Act from doing anything significant for, or giving anything significant to, anyone they are lobbying, and requires compliance with strongly worded principles that include always acting with integrity and upholding the highest ethical standards and the spirit of the Code and Act. Rule 4 of the Code also states that the senior officer of a business, union or other organization is responsible for ensuring that every employee is aware of the requirements of the Code and the Act.

On December 20, 2017, before it became public that Commissioner Shepherd had made the ruling in September 2017, Democracy Watch filed a new complaint with new Lobbying Commissioner Nancy Bélanger alleging the Aga Khan’s gift of the Bahamas trip given to Trudeau in December 2014 and December 2016, and to Liberal MP Seamus O’Regan in December 2016, violated the Lobbyists’ Code. The office of the Lobbying Commissioner confirmed on December 28th that it was investigating Democracy Watch’s complaint.

Democracy Watch requested in its complaint letter that that the complaint be investigated and ruled on by someone completely independent of Commissioner Bélanger because she was handpicked by Prime Minister Trudeau through a secretive, PMO-controlled process and is therefore biased. In a separate court case, Democracy Watch is challenging Trudeau’s appointment of Commissioner Bélanger, and Democracy Watch also has an ongoing campaign to make the Cabinet appointment process actually independent, open and merit-based.

“An independent investigation about whether the Aga Khan violated the lobbyist ethics code by giving the trip gift to PM Trudeau and MP O’Regan should have been initiated in January 2017,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “Given that she was handpicked by Trudeau through a secretive, PMO-controlled process, the new Lobbying Commissioner is in a conflict of interest and so must delegate the investigation to a person who is independent of her and all federal political parties.”

Democracy Watch is also calling on the Auditor General to audit Lobbying Commissioner Shepherd and the RCMP because they let off the hook 84% of people who she caught since 2008 violating the Act or Code. Commissioner Shepherd finished her term in office on December 29, 2017. More than 1,700 Canadians have joined the call on the Auditor General to audit the Ethics Commissioner and Lobbying Commissioner and RCMP — see details here.

“Lobbying Commissioner Shepherd went out with a whimper by issuing only one public ruling in the two years after the Liberals were elected, and she also let almost everyone off since 2008, so the Auditor General should also audit her negligently weak record,” said Conacher.

The Conflict of Interest Act and the Lobbying Act and Lobbyists’ Code will soon be reviewed by the House Ethics Committee. The Conservatives rejected many key proposed changes when the laws were last reviewed by the Committee. See details about the changes needed to close loopholes, strengthen enforcement and penalties for the Lobbying Act and Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct here.

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

Democracy Watch’s Government Ethics Campaign and Stop Bad Government Appointments Campaign