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Ethics Commissioner’s quick ruling based on very questionable claim that law does not allow her to investigate any of the interventions by PMO staff in the Senate audit of Senator Duffy while the RCMP is investigating Nigel Wright’s payment to Duffy

More than 149,000 messages sent calling for changes to clean up unethical law


December 17, 2013

OTTAWA – Today, following its complaint filed December 11th with federal Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson, Democracy Watch released the ruling it received from Commissioner Dawson last Friday, December 13th.  The ruling uses a very questionable claim to reject Democracy Watch’s request for an inquiry into the interventions by Nigel Wright, Patrick Rogers, Chris Woodcock and Benjamin Perrin in the Senate Committee’s audit of Senator Mike Duffy to determine if their actions violated the Conflict of Interest Act (the “Act”).

The Ethics Commissioner is only required to suspend an inquiry if: 1. she reasonably believes that the actions of the person she is investigating violate another law (clause 49(1)(a) of the Act), or 2. she finds out that another authority is investigating the same “subject-matter” as she is (clause 49(1)(b)), or 3. she finds out that charges have been laid for the same “subject-matter” she is investigating (clause 49(1)(b)).

In her ruling, sent to Democracy Watch just two days after it filed its complaint, Commissioner Dawson claims that the RCMP’s investigation into Wright’s payment to Duffy (which is the only thing the RCMP has confirmed it is investigating) is the same “subject-matter” as the intervention by Wright and the others into the Senate committee’s audit of Senator Duffy.

In Democracy Watch’s opinion this is a false claim.  Democracy Watch’s complaint letter also requested that the Ethics Commissioner initiate an inquiry into Mr. Perrin’s actions of assisting Mr. Wright in making the payment of more than $90,000 to Senator Duffy.  Democracy Watch agrees that the Ethics Commissioner cannot investigate these actions by Mr. Perrin now as they actually are the same “subject-matter” as the RCMP investigation.  However, the other actions by PMO staff can clearly be investigated now.

“As she has many times before, Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson has again used a false reason to roll over like a lapdog and refuse to investigate and rule on the very questionable actions of Conservatives, this time protecting PMO staff from accountability for intervening in the Senate committee’s audit of Senator Duffy,” said Duff Conacher, Board member of Democracy Watch. “This ruling continues Commissioner Dawson’s very weak enforcement record over the past 6 years that includes her incredible ruling that let dozens of Conservatives off the hook when they handed out government cheques with the Conservative Party logo on them, her more than 80 secret rulings covering up who knows what wrongdoing, her illegal use of screens to cover up recusals that the law requires government officials to disclose, and the three times she has let Nigel Wright off the hook.” (See details in Backgrounder below).

Ethics Commissioner Dawson also claims in her December 13th ruling that it would not be in the public interest for her to investigate now.  There is no likelihood that an inquiry by the Ethics Commissioner into the intervention by PMO staff into the Senate committee’s audit of Mike Duffy will negatively affect the RCMP’s investigation of Nigel Wright’s payment to Senator Duffy as all the key facts of the payment have been publicly disclosed and admitted.

Also in her December 13th ruling letter to Democracy Watch, Commissioner Dawson claims that she did not have time to issue a ruling when she suspended her inquiry into Wright’s payment to Senator Duffy on June 13th after the RCMP confirmed that it was investigating the payment.  Democracy Watch’s opinion is that she could have easily found Wright guilty before the RCMP confirmed its investigation given that it was very clear by May 15th that Mr. Wright had improperly furthered Senator Duffy’s private interests by making the payment to him.

As well, in her December 13th letter Commissioner Dawson also claims that conflicts of interest “screens” that she has set up for various government officials, including Nigel Wright, are legal even though the screens mean that officials who recuse themselves from decision-making processes because of conflicts of interest do not disclose their recusals publicly as they are clearly required to do by subsection 25(1) of the Act.

More than 149,000 messages have been sent through Democracy Watch’s letter-writing campaign calling for changes to clean up the federal ethics law, and laws across Canada. “When Parliament opens again in late January, the House Ethics Committee will issue its report on changes needed to the federal ethics enforcement system, and hopefully they will recommend many changes to clean up the dangerously unethical mess caused by Commissioner Dawson and the many loopholes and flaws  in the law,” said Conacher.

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Duff Conacher, Board member of Democracy Watch
Tel: 613-241-5179       Cell: 416-546-3443
Email: [email protected]


Federal Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson’s weak enforcement record

Federal Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson has had a very weak enforcement record since 2007, including letting dozens of Conservatives off the hook for very questionable actions, and making more than 80 secret rulings.

Ethics Commissioner Dawson’s first cover-up for Nigel Wright

Commissioner Dawson’s first cover-up for Nigel Wright was her creation of an illegal, so-called ethics screen when Wright first took the job that violated the requirement in subsection 25(1) of the Conflict of Interest Act to make a public declaration within 60 days every time Wright recused himself from a decision-making process because of a conflict of interest.  This “screen” was supposedly enforced by the Deputy Chief of Staff. As a result of this cover-up, all of Wright’s recusals have been kept secret, and there is no way to tell if he ever failed to recuse himself as required by the Act.

Ethics Commissioner Dawson’s second cover-up for Nigel Wright

Commissioner Dawson’s second cover-up for Wright was when she abandoned her investigation last fall without issuing a notice, let alone a ruling, of whether Wright violated the Act by taking part in discussions of issues that affect Barrick Gold.  The Ethics Commissioner is allowed to do this under s. 45 of the Act.  The cover-up only came to light because Canadian Press journalist Joan Bryden pressed Commissioner Dawson to make a public statement about the case.  Commissioner Dawson’s statement failed to set out any reasons why she concluded that Wright had not violated the Act.

Ethics Commissioner Dawson’s third cover-up for Nigel Wright

Commissioner Dawson’s third cover-up for Wright was when she failed to issue a ruling concerning Mr. Wright’s payment to Senator Duffy of more than $90,000, which she could have done easily last June before the RCMP announced its investigation into the payment because the facts of the payment had been public for a month already.

Conflict of Interest Act missing key rules and accountability measures
The Conservatives broke a 2006 election promise (one of their many broken accountability promises) to include key ethics rules in the new Conflict of Interest Act prohibiting dishonesty and being in even an appearance of a conflict of interest, as Prime Minister Harper instead put those rules in his Accountability Guide for ministers and other senior officials so he could ignore the rules (as he has since – see the rules in Annex A, Part 1 of the Guide).

Because of section 66 added to the new Act by the Conservatives in 2006, the Ethics Commissioner’s rulings cannot be challenged in court if she has factual or legal errors in her rulings.  There are no mandatory penalties for violating the ethics rules in the Act.  As well, if Prime Minister Harper approves it, Commissioner Dawson’s term in office can be renewed for another seven years in 2014 so she has an incentive to please him.

Democracy Watch’s Government Ethics Campaign