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Ethics Commissioner Dawson’s rulings on PM’s & other ministers’ conflict screens, and on Finance Minister Morneau owning shares in his family’s company, challenged in Federal Court of Appeal

Democracy Watch argues that screens are illegal “smokescreens” and Morneau should have been required to divest his shares as soon as he became minister

First two cases of Democracy Watch’s six ethics and lobbying court challenges – next two will be heard by the Federal Court in mid-November

Thursday, September 6, 2018

OTTAWA – Today, two of Democracy Watch’s six ongoing federal ethics and lobbying court cases are being heard by the Federal Court of Appeal, one after the other.

The first case challenges the legality of the Ethics Commissioner’s use of conflict screens because they are smokescreens that violate the disclosure requirements in the Conflict of Interest Act by hiding whether Cabinet ministers (Prime Minister Trudeau, and Ministers Morneau, LeBlanc, Wilson-Raybould, Champagne and Sohi) and about 20 top officials (including Deepak Chopra) participate in decisions that affect their own or their family’s or friends’ financial or other interests.

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. There is nothing in the federal ethics law, the Conflict of Interest Act, that allows the Ethics Commissioner to use the screens. Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson ignored the law through her entire 2007-2017 term.

“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.”

The court file number is A-287-16/424-16 – to see Democracy Watch’s legal arguments, click here. Yavar Hameed of Hameed Law is representing Democracy Watch in the case.

The second case challenges whether it was legal for former Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson’s to allow Finance Minister Morneau to own more than $30 million in shares in his family’s company during his first two years as a minister.

Subsection 27(1) of the Conflict of Interest 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 within 4 months of being appointed, and the section 20 definition of “controlled assets” is clearly broad enough to cover the investment scheme that Morneau set up to hide his Morneau Shepell shares.

“As she has did many times, Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson allowed a Cabinet minister to violate the federal ethics law, and so as it has many times, Democracy Watch is once again challenging the Ethics Commissioner in court,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “All of these court cases would be unnecessary if the Ethics Commissioner had just done her job and enforced federal ethics rules properly and effectively.”

Although Minister Morneau finally sold the shares last December, the case is important to determine whether it’s legal for any minister to have investments like he did. For example, Prime Minister Trudeau continues to own shares in many companies, as do Ministers Bennett, Brison, Champagne, MacAulay, and Senator Harder and dozens of top government officials. The court file number is A-348-17 – to see Democracy Watch’s legal arguments, click here. Sebastian Spano is representing Democracy Watch in the case.

Democracy Watch’s next two cases, challenging the appointment of the new Ethics Commissioner and new Lobbying Commissioner, will be heard by the Federal Court on November 14-15, 2018. To see details, click 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