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Democracy Watch releases legal arguments in court challenge of Ethics Commissioner’s illegal screens

Prime Minister latest to set up a “smokescreen” – his covers up conflicts of interest with Aga Khan

Conservatives changed law to require disclosure when ministers and others recuse themselves from decision-making processes – Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson ignored the law and allowed screens that hide recusals

New Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion, handpicked by Trudeau Cabinet through secretive process, continues to allow use of screens

Friday, February 9, 2018

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch released its legal arguments in its court challenge of the Ethics Commissioner’s illegal use of screens that hide whether Cabinet ministers or other government official recuse themselves from discussions or decisions when they have a conflict of interest. The first federal Ethics Commissioner, Bernard Shapiro, recommended in 2005 and 2006 that detailed public disclosure be required every time ministers or other officials recuse themselves. With the 2006 Federal Accountability Act, the Conservatives changed the federal ethics law to require public disclosure.

Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson ignored the law through her entire 2007-2017 term, and instead she set up what she calls conflict of interest “screens” that are actually “smokescreens” as Commissioner Dawson claimed public declarations of recusals were not required by ministers and others with screens.

Prime Minister Trudeau is the latest of more than 20 ministers and top government officials to set up a screen (as new Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion continues to allow office holders to use them). Trudeau’s screen claims he will “abstain from any matter, discussion or decision, other than my participation in activities that are ceremonial in nature, specifically targeting the interests of the Aga Khan and his institutions.”

There is nothing in the federal ethics law, the Conflict of Interest Act, that allows the Ethics Commissioner to use the screens. Subsection 25(1) of the Act requires a public declaration detailing every recusal. In her January 2013 report to the House Ethics Committee, Ethics Commissioner Dawson acknowledged that the definition of “recusal” is broad and covers all the situations that the screens cover (page 35).

“The federal Ethics Commissioner’s smokescreens violate the federal ethics law as they allow Cabinet ministers and others to hide whether they are taking part in decisions when they have a conflict of interest,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “The Ethics Commissioner screen schemes ignore that the law was changed in 2006 to require public disclosure every time a minister or government official doesn’t participate in a discussion or decision because of a conflict of interest, as recommended by the first ethics commissioner in 2005 and 2006.”

Democracy Watch recently requested that Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion recuse himself from making any decisions about situations involving the Trudeau Cabinet as he was handpicked by the Cabinet through a secretive process that failed to consult with opposition party leaders as required by law. Democracy Watch has another court case challenging the legality of Dion’s appointment.

More than 11,000 Canadians have signed a petition supporting Democracy Watch’s campaign calling on 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.

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Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch

and Chairperson of the Government Ethics Coalition

Tel: (613) 241-5179
Cell: 416-546-3443
[email protected]

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