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Democracy Watch’s lawsuit challenges Lobbying Commissioner’s ruling that investigation should not continue into former Apotex Chairman Barry Sherman’s fundraising for Trudeau Liberals

Lobbying Commissioner Nancy Bélanger ignored fact that Sherman lobbied for Apotex, and so his fundraising caused Apotex to violate the Lobbyists’ Code

Lobbying Commissioner also in a conflict of interest as she was handpicked by Trudeau through secretive, PMO-controlled process – should have referred investigation to person independent of her and all parties

Review of federal lobbying laws this year must close secret lobbying loopholes, strengthen enforcement, make Lobbying Commissioner actually independent by changing appointment process, and add high fines as penalties

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch released the application it recently filed in Federal Court challenging new Lobbying Commissioner Nancy Bélanger’s decision in January to discontinue the investigation into former Apotex Inc. Chairman Barry Sherman’s fundraising for the Trudeau Liberals.

Democracy Watch filed a complaint with the Lobbying Commissioner in November 2016 alleging that the fundraising event Barry Sherman organized for the Liberal Party in August 2015 (that Trudeau attended) caused Sherman and Apotex to be in violation of Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct rules that prohibit doing favours or giving gifts to politicians or government officials.

Commissioner Bélanger decision was that, because Mr. Sherman unfortunately passed away in December, she had a “valid reason for not dealing with the matter” (as allowed under subsection 10.4(1.1) of the Lobbying Act.

However, Democracy Watch’s complaint made it clear that Mr. Sherman’s fundraising for the Liberals also caused Apotex Inc. to be in violation of the Lobbyists’ Code, and that Apotex also violated the Code by letting Mr. Sherman do the fundraising. Mr. Sherman’s passing does not end the ongoing conflict of interest that his fundraising caused that taints Apotex’s ongoing lobbying of the federal government. As well, Mr. Sherman’s family has likely inherited Apotex, and actions that benefit one’s family clearly raise issues of conflict of interest.

In addition, Commissioner Bélanger was appointed by Prime Minister Trudeau through a secretive, PMO-controlled process that failed to consult with opposition party leaders as required by the Lobbying Act, and as a result she has an appearance of a conflict of interest and bias in favour of the Trudeau Cabinet.

Given her bias, Democracy Watch requested in January that Commissioner Bélanger not make any decisions concerning situations involving the Trudeau Cabinet until its court case challenging her appointment was ruled on by the Federal Court. The Commissioner’s office is investigating four other Democracy Watch complaints about situations involving Prime Minister Trudeau or other Cabinet ministers or Liberal MPs (See all four situations summarized under A.1 here).

“Democracy Watch is challenging new Lobbying Commissioner Bélanger’s ruling in court because it doesn’t take into account that Apotex violated the Lobbyists’ Code by letting Barry Sherman fundraise for the Liberals, and that Sherman’s fundraising tainted Apotex’s ongoing lobbying of the federal government, and also because Commissioner Bélanger was appointed by Prime Minister Trudeau through a secretive, PMO-controlled process that makes her biased in favour of the Trudeau Cabinet,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch.

Given her bias in favour of the Trudeau Cabinet, Commissioner Bélanger should have recused herself from making any decision concerning the situation and referred the matter to someone actually independent of the Cabinet. This process has been used at the provincial level by ethics commissioners. For example, in 2016 Marguerite Trussler, Alberta’s Ethics Commissioner, recused herself from investigating and ruling on a complaint because she was friends with two people involved in the matter.

Among other rules, rules 6, 8 and 10 of the Lobbyists’ Code prohibit people who should be registered as lobbyists from doing anything significant for, or giving anything significant to, anyone they are lobbying. The Lobbyists’ Code also requires anyone who should be registered as a lobbyist to uphold the highest profession and ethical standards, and follow the spirit of the Code and the Act.

The legal error in Commissioner Bélanger’s ruling is that Barry Sherman lobbied the Prime Minister and federal government institutions not for himself but for Apotex. As well, as Chairman of Apotex, he was legally bound to advance the interests of the company.

As a result, the Commissioner’s ruling should be that Apotex violated the Code by failing to uphold high ethical standards when it allowed Mr. Sherman to do the fundraising for the Liberals, and that Mr. Sherman’s fundraising caused a conflict of interest for Prime Minister Trudeau that violates the Code as it affects Apotex’s ongoing lobbying of the federal government.

Democracy Watch also has an ongoing campaign to make the Cabinet appointment process actually independent, open and merit-based.

The Conflict of Interest Act and the Lobbying Act and Lobbyists’ Code are required to be reviewed by the House Ethics Committee in 2018. 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 and 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 page and Stop Bad Government Appointments Campaign page