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Ethics Commissioner issues misleading letter in cover-up of his ruling on appointments of judges connected to Dominic LeBlanc – Democracy Watch writes back calling for public ruling based on new info

Commissioner committed to issue public rulings on all complaints, but his senior lawyer is LeBlanc’s sister-in-law – is that why he is refusing to issue a ruling?

Democracy Watch filed court case last November challenging federal judicial appointment system for being too political

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Wednesday, March 24, 2021

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch released the letter it received recently from federal Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion in response to the letter Democracy Watch sent last month calling on the Ethics Commissioner to issue a ruling, finally, on Democracy Watch’s complaint filed in July 2019. The complaint requested an independent investigation into whether Trudeau Cabinet Minister Dominic LeBlanc violated the federal government’s ethics law by participating in the appointment process for judges in New Brunswick with financial and other connections to him.

In his letter, Ethics Commissioner Dion claims that examinations and inquiries he conducts are confidential. However, he doesn’t mention that when he concludes an examination/investigation he is required to issue a public ruling if an MP or Senator has filed the complaint (under subsection 44(8) of the Conflict of Interest Act), and under section 45 of the Act if he has self-initiated the investigation and not tried to bury the results by discontinuing the investigation.

As well, when testifying before the House Ethics Committee in December 2017 about his appointment, Commissioner Dion committed to issue a public ruling on every complaint he received.

Democracy Watch also released the letter it has sent back to the Ethics Commissioner, pointing to all of the new information that been revealed since July 2019 by a federal government whistleblower showing that the Minister of Justice and/or Prime Minister’s Office consult with Cabinet ministers and MPs from each province before appointing judges in their province.

“Ethics Commissioner Dion’s letter amounts to a cover-up of his ruling on Dominic LeBlanc’s participation in appointing New Brunswick judges who have connections to him,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “Given what has been revealed over the past year about how the Minister of Justice and PMO consult with Cabinet ministers and Liberal MPs about the appointments of judges in their provinces, it is difficult to believe that Dominic LeBlanc did not participate in the process appointing these judges who have financial and other connections to him.”

“Is Commissioner Dion refusing to issue a ruling because he was handpicked by the Trudeau Cabinet through a biased, secretive, dishonest process, and his senior lawyer is LeBlanc’s sister-in-law? Commissioner Dion should have long ago delegated the investigation to someone independent of his office and all parties,” said Conacher.

See Democracy Watch’s February 25, 2021 news release and letter for more details about:

  • its July 2019 complaint;
  • the connections between Minister LeBlanc and the judges appointed in New Brunswick;
  • how LeBlanc’s participation in the decision-making process to appoint the judges would be a clear violation of the Conflict of Interest Act, and;
  • how the Ethics Commissioner is biased.

Democracy Watch filed a court case last November challenging the federal judicial appointment process for being too political because the Minister of Justice controls the process too much, including consulting with other ministers, and Liberal MPs and party members before making the final choice about who will be appointed.

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

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

Whether Rogers-Shaw deal is approved, consumer-run telecom watchdog group must be created using method that has worked in U.S. (More than 35 consumer and citizen groups and the CRTC support creating the group)

Strengthening rules, enforcement and competition won’t stop gouging and abuse by telecom companies – empowering consumers with their own watchdog group will

Government would pass law to establish group and require telecom companies to send notices to customers inviting them to join group – likely 1 million would join

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Monday, March 22, 2021

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch called on the federal government, whether or not the Rogers-Shaw deal is approved, to create a broad-based, well-resourced, consumer-run Telecom Consumer Organization (TCO) using an innovative, low-cost, effective method that has worked in the U.S.

During CRTC hearings in October 2018 about hundreds of stories about abusive sales practices and gouging by Canada’s large telecom companies, Democracy Watch and more than 30 citizen and consumer groups called for the creation of the TCO. The CRTC recommended the creation of the TCO in its February 2019 report (p. 37).

The TCO could easily be created by the federal government at no cost, and no cost to telecom companies. Creating the TCO is the most low-cost, effective way to protect consumers and ensure companies serve everyone fairly and well at fair prices.

“Whether the Rogers-Shaw deal is approved, or competition increased, to really stop ongoing gouging and abuse by Canada’s big telecom companies the federal government must create a national, consumer-run telecom watchdog group that will empower and provide free help to consumers with shopping around, complaining and suing to get good, fairly priced service from the companies,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch and the Corporate Responsibility Coalition, which has 31 member groups from across Canada that all endorse the call for the creation of a TCO. “States in the U.S. have successfully used a low-cost, effective method to create consumer-run industry watchdog groups, and the federal government should use this method to create a telecom watchdog group for Canadians.”

“If the Trudeau Liberals don’t require telecom companies to send out email and other notices inviting their customers to join a national, consumer-run telecom industry watchdog group, they will make it clear they don’t really care about protecting consumers from gouging and abuse,” said Conacher. “Telecom consumers pay all the costs for telecom companies’ ads, lawyers, lobbyists and other advocacy efforts, and requiring the companies to help create a consumer-run telecom watchdog group is most low-cost, effective thing to do to empower and educate consumers, give them a place to call that will give them free, effective help when they are gouged or abused, and ensure telecom companies serve everyone fairly and well at fair prices.”

In October 2018, in addition to the more than 30 citizen groups in the Corporate Responsibility Coalition (see its submission to the CRTC here), the four groups in the ad hoc Fair Communications Sales Coalition (FCSC) also called for the creation of the TCO. The FCSC was made up of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC), ACORN Canada, the National Pensioners Federation, and the Canadian Association of Retired Persons (CARP). To see the FCSC’s submission calling for the creation of the TCO, click here and download the second Intervention document.

How can the TCO be created and what will it do?

The Telecom Consumer Organization (TCO) can be created by the federal government passing a law establishing the organization (at no cost, with an interim board appointed by the government) and requiring telecom companies to send out notices by email and mail to their customers. Sending out the emails would not cost anything, and the TCO would pay for the printing costs for the pamphlet the telecom companies would mail 1-2 times each year to customers who still receive bills and notices by mail.

The notices about the TCO would describe the group and invite customers to join, with a nominal annual membership fee of $30 average. Such groups have been created in some U.S. states to watch over state utilities, with usually about 5% of consumers joining, which would create a group with 1 million members and a $30 million annual budget. To see more details about the TCO, click here.

The TCO would be consumer-directed, with a board elected from among its members.

The TCO would provide telecom customers across Canada with free help shopping around, filing complaints, free lawyers for lawsuits to stop gouging and abuse, and would represent telecom customers in all government policy-making and regulatory processes.

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

Democracy Watch’s Questions and Answers about the Telecom Consumer Organization (TCO) and Democracy Watch’s Citizen Association Campaign

New honesty rules needed as court and elections commissioner refuse to enforce false claims rules in federal election law

Trudeau Liberals ignored experts, House Committee, Chief Electoral Officer, Commissioner, and tens of thousands of Canadians, who all called in 2018 for effective measures to stop false claims

Will Liberals continue to protect their social media company friends, or will they work with other parties to require honesty in politics and online?

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Wednesday, March 17, 2021

OTTAWA – Today, in the wake of a recent court ruling that deleted the rule prohibiting false claims about candidates from the Canada Elections Act (CEA), and in response to the refusal by the Commissioner of Canada Elections to enforce the CEA’s rule requiring candidates to be honest with voters, Democracy Watch called for new rules to be added to the CEA to require honesty in politics, finally.

The court’s decision striking down the one false claims rule, and the Commissioner’s refusal to enforce the other false claims rule, mean that unless the CEA is changed it will be legal in the next election for anyone to lie about candidates (including in false online social media posts), and it will be legal for party leaders and candidates to lie to voters.

More than 25,000 Canadians have supported Democracy Watch’s campaign for an honesty in politics law, and more than 25,000 Canadians have also either signed Democracy Watch’s online petition on Change.org or its letter-writing campaign calling for changes to stop secret, false online election ads.

“As tens of thousands of Canadians are calling for, new honesty in politics rules are needed before the next election because a court ruling has removed the rule in Canada’s election law that prohibited false claims about candidates, and the Commissioner of Canada Elections has refused to enforce the rule that prohibits anyone, including a party leader or candidate, from using a false claim to bait a voter to vote for them,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch.

The changes the Trudeau Liberals made to the CEA with Bill C-76 in 2019, and the federal government’s initiatives announced in January 2019 and May 2019, ignored the call by all experts, a House Committee, the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO), the Commissioner of Canada Elections and tens of thousands of Canadians for more effective changes and measures to actually stop fake online election posts and ads, false claims about party leaders and candidates, false claims by party leaders and candidates, as well as measures to stop big money interest group ad campaigns, and to protect voters’ privacy.

Incredibly, Bill C-76 actually gutted the rule in the CEA prohibiting on false claims about candidates, even though the CEO and Commissioner warned that the Bill would have that bad effect. Bill C-76 also increased the advertising spending limit for wealthy, big money third party interest groups by 250% — a really bad move in the wrong direction given social media advertising costs are 50-90% lower than traditional TV, radio and print media ad costs.

Meanwhile, in a March 2018 ruling on Democracy Watch’s complaint about Trudeau’s false promise during the 2015 election that he would change the electoral system, the Commissioner refused to enforce the rule in the CEA (subsection 282.8(b)) – formerly 482(b)) that prohibits using a false claim to bait a voter to vote for a candidate.

Connected to these calls for honesty in politics measures are Democracy Watch’s calls to stop big money interest group ad campaigns that amplify false claims, and to stop data mining by parties to target false claim ads at specific voters. More than 100,000 Canadians have supported Democracy Watch’s campaign to stop big money in Canadian politics, and more than 12,000 have signed its online petition calling for political parties to be covered by the federal privacy law, and other key privacy protection changes.

“The Trudeau Liberals severely weakened the rule that prohibits false claims about election candidates, more than doubled the spending limit for wealthy interest groups, and didn’t do enough to stop false, online election ads, false election promises or big money donations,” said Conacher. “As a result, the fall 2019 federal election was much like the 2016 U.S. presidential election – dishonest, unfair and driven by false claims of wealthy interest groups, party leaders and parties.”

“If the Trudeau Liberals actually want to ensure that the next election is fair and democratic, they should introduce a short, simple bill as soon as possible to reverse the bad, weak changes made by Bill C-76 and to strengthen other key rules,” said Conacher. “The bill should prohibit all false claims and false promises, lower donation limits, reverse the increase in interest group ad spending, require all media and social media companies to disclose to the Commissioner of Canada Elections all election-related ads, empower the Commissioner to delete any false post or ad from social media, and extend the privacy law to political parties, with penalties high enough to actually discourage violations by social media companies that have tens of billions in annual profits.”

“All parties should support the introduction and quick passage of this bill as soon as possible to ensure the next election is honest, fair and democratic, and to ensure the privacy of Canadians is protected,” said Conacher.

Instead of protecting the integrity of Canada’s elections, the Trudeau Liberals’ past actions protected their friends at social media companies, which benefit from all the ad spending and from lack of accountability for false claims made on their platform, and their own data mining of voters’ private information.

As CTV detailed in March 2017, the Liberal Party uses Data Sciences Inc., run by Prime Minister Trudeau’s friend Tom Pitfield, for its data management of the private, personal information it has gathered on Canadian voters. And as CTV also detailed in that article, and also Maclean’s magazine detailed in October 2017, Mr. Pitfield also heads up the think tank Canada 2020, which had Google as a partner until recently, and an executive from Google Canada as an adviser, and still has Facebook as a partner (see logo at bottom of page) and still has an executive from Facebook Canada as an adviser.

As the Ottawa Citizen detailed in May 2018, Liberal Party-connected lobbyists and executives work for Facebook, Google, Microsoft, while their friends and/or former colleagues worked for Trudeau Cabinet ministers.

See Backgrounder for details about the key changes needed to:

  1. Stop secret, false, online election ads;
  2. Require honesty during pre-election and election periods;
  3. Stop wealthy interests from dominating pre-election and election periods, and;
  4. Protect the privacy of voters’ and all Canadians.

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

Democracy Watch’s Honesty in Politics Campaign, Money in Politics Campaign, Stop Fake Online Election Ads Campaign, and Democratic Voting Systems Campaign

Democracy Watch calls on Commissioner of Canada Elections to issue public update or ruling on investigation into RightNow anti-abortion group collusion with Conservative Party candidates during 2019 election

RightNow confirmed it was being investigated in February 2020 – public ruling needed to clarify the rules before the next election

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Monday, March 15, 2021

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch release the letter it has sent to Commissioner of Canada Elections Yves Côté requesting that he issue, as soon as possible, a public update or ruling on allegations of illegal election collusion between the anti-abortion group RightNow and Conservative Party candidates during the 2019 federal election.

RightNow confirmed that it was under investigation in a May 2020 National Post article, and that it had received a letter from the Commissioner’s Director of Investigations in February 2020.

RightNow recruited campaign volunteers and offered them training through in-person sessions and webinars that contained some very direct information about volunteering for Conservative candidate campaigns, as reported by PressProgress.ca in this August 29, 2019 article and CBC in this September 6, 2019 article. RightNow also coordinated directing volunteers to campaigns.

The Post article states that the letter from the Commissioner’s investigations director raises the question of whether the recruitment, training and coordination by RightNow was a non-monetary donation of services to the Conservative candidates, which would be a violation of the Canada Elections Act (CEA) because only individuals are allowed to contribute to parties, riding associations and candidates (see subsection 363(1) and definition of “non-monetary contribution” in subsection 2(1)).

The Post article also indicates that RightNow was planning to resist requests from the Commissioner’s investigators for documents and interviews about their activities.

Democracy Watch’s opinion is that the only way RightNow could legally provide those services to candidates is if the candidates paid it market value for the services. According to candidate reports to Election Canada (filed under subsection 477.59(2)(b)), RightNow was not paid for the services.

Another issue that the investigation may be looking into is whether RightNow and Conservative candidates violated the rule added in spring 2019 to the CEA (subsection 351.01) that prohibits a party or candidate (or person associated with a candidate’s campaign) and a third party from colluding, including by sharing information, in order to influence the third party’s partisan activities, advertising or surveys during the election campaign period.

Democracy Watch’s position is that, to find a violation of the anti-collusion rule, the Commissioner is not required to find proof that RightNow undertook an activity because of sharing information with Conservative candidates or the Conservative Party. Instead, all the Commissioner needs to find is evidence that information was shared “in order to influence” RightNow’s activities.

“The donation and anti-collusion rules are aimed at ensuring fair and democratic elections, and preventing lobby groups from unethically helping parties and candidates get elected, and so it was good that the election commissioner investigated the activities of RightNow supporting Conservative candidates,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “It is important for the commissioner to issue a ruling on this situation as soon as possible so that any wrongdoing that may have occurred is confirmed publicly, and so the rules are made clear before the next election campaign starts, which could happen at any time.”

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

Democracy Watch’s Money in Politics Campaign

Democracy Watch calls on Ford government to stop changes that will increase patronage and cronyism in Ontario’s judicial appointments

Bill 245 will, among other changes, make system too open to political interference, violating judges’ independence and Charter right to impartial courts

Democracy Watch will file a court case against the changes if they become law

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Thursday, March 11, 2021

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch released the submission it will make via Zoom at 4 pm to the Committee on the Legislative Assembly that calls on the Ford government to reverse the changes made by Bill 245 that will give the Attorney General too much control and political discretion in appointments of Ontario judges.

While not ideal, Ontario’s current judicial appointment system is considered to be one of the leading systems in the world because of its independence from, and restriction of, political influence. The changes proposed to the Courts of Justice Act in Schedule 3 of Bill 245 will:

  1. increase the number of members of Ontario’s Judicial Appointments Advisory Committee (JAAC) that the Attorney General appoints from 7 to 10 (of 13 total), and;
  2. increase the number of candidates the JAAC sends to the Attorney General for each judge position from two or more to 6 or more (with the Attorney General allowed to reject all 6 recommended candidates and ask for a new list of 6 candidates as many times as s/he wants).

These two changes will politicize the appointment of judges in Ontario, opening it up to patronage and cronyism that will undermine the public’s confidence in the independence and impartiality of the courts.

Democracy Watch’s position is that the changes will make Ontario’s system for appointing judges unconstitutional, as it will violate the constitutional principle that guarantees the independence of courts, and will violate the public’s Charter right to impartial courts.

Last November, Democracy Watch filed a court case in Federal Court challenging the federal government’s system for appointing judges because it is also open to political interference that violates the constitutional principle that guarantees the independence of courts, and the public’s Charter right to impartial courts.

If Bill 245 is enacted in its current form, Democracy Watch will also file a court case challenging the constitutionality of Ontario’s new appointments system.

The Advocates’ Society, the Federation of Ontario Law Associations, the Canadian Council of Criminal Defence Lawyers, the Criminal Lawyers’ Association, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and several associations representing racialized lawyers have all expressed concerns about the negative effect of the proposed Bill 245 changes on the independence and impartiality of Ontario judges.

The Ford Cabinet is proposing dangerously unethical changes to Ontario’s appointment system for judges that will make the system open to patronage and cronyism,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “Democracy Watch will challenge the new appointments system for judges in court if it is implemented as set out in Bill 245 because it violates the constitutionally guaranteed independence of the courts, independence that is needed to ensure democratic good government and fair law enforcement for all.”

“The current appointments system is not ideal, and it should be changed to decrease the control that the Attorney General has over the appointment process, not increase it as Bill 245 proposes,” said Conacher.

The constitutional principle that guarantees the independence of judges and the courts has been upheld in several rulings on the measures in Part VII of the Constitution. And sections 7 and 11(d) (and, indirectly, 24(1)) of the Charter have been applied in rulings to ensure impartial court hearings.

Like Ontario’s current system, Cabinet ministers in Manitoba (s. 3.3) and B.C. (s. 21) choose a minority of the members of the advisory committee for their provincial courts (ideally the Cabinet should not choose any of the members).

Also like Ontario’s current system, the advisory committees in Quebec and the UK submit only 1-3 candidates for each open judge position, and the minister is required to choose from that short list. In the UK where the committee only submits one candidate, the minister must explain in writing to the committee if s/he rejects the recommended candidate.

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

See more at Democracy Watch’s Stop Bad Government Appointments Campaign and Stop Unfair Law Enforcement Campaign

Democracy Watch launches petition calling on Transport Minister to ban Boeing 737 Max-8 in Canada — 14,000+ have already signed

Petition also calls for full public inquiry into why 737 Max-8 was approved, not grounded after first crash, and then re-approved last December

Petition also calls for the creation of an Airline Passengers Organization (APO) to educate and represent passengers in policy-making processes

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Wednesday, March 10, 2021

OTTAWA – Today, two years after the second crash of a Boeing 737 Max 8 in Ethiopia killed 157 people, including 18 Canadians, Democracy Watch has launched a petition on Change.org calling on federal Transport Minister Omar Alghabra to reverse the decision to approve the plane to fly again in Canada.

The petition, which more than 14,000 people have already signed, also calls on Minister Alghabra to launch a public inquiry into the government’s decisions concerning the plane, and to create an Airline Passengers Organization (APO) using an innovative method that has worked well in the U.S.

As set out in the petition, three independent experts have concluded that the 737 Max-8 is still unsafe – Gilles Primeau (see him quoted in this Dec. 17, 2020 CBC article and this Feb. 3, 2021 Radio-Canada piece); Brian A. Barsky (see his Jan. 21, 2021 opinion piece in the Globe and Mail), and; Ed Pierson (see him quoted in this Jan. 25, 2021 BBC.com article).

As well, senior Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) safety engineer Joe Jacobsen has just gone public accusing the FAA of negligence in approving the 737 Max to fly in the first place, and not requiring enough changes after the first crash. Based on his 36-year career as an aeronautics engineer, he has concluded that the FAA has still not required enough changes to the 737 Max, and that the plane is still unsafe. See his concerns set out in this March 7, 2021 Seattle Times article.

The petition also calls for a public inquiry to examine all the federal government’s decisions concerning the 737 Max given Boeing’s past fraud, deception and ongoing secrecy, and given that serious, unanswered questions remain concerning why the Canadian government approved the 737 Max to fly in Canada in the first place, and did not ground the plane after the first crash in October 2018, and re-approved the plane to fly in Canada last December.

“The 737 Max still has known major and catastrophic hazards that can contribute to a crash. The public relies on safe travel and, therefore, the new model of the 737 or 737 Max series should be evaluated as a new type of plane, which would eliminate it from Canadian skies as it cannot meet safety requirements for new planes,” said Chris Moore, whose 24-year old daughter, Danielle, died in the March 2019 crash. Canadians need to tell Transport Canada and the Prime Minister to ban this plane in Canada. This is a matter of social democracy and the public should have a say in our safety. Please sign the petition.”

In addition, the petition calls on Transport Minister Alghabra to create an Airline Passengers Organization (APO) by requiring airlines to hand a pamphlet to passengers boarding planes that invites them to join the APO, as well as include a notice about the APO in any emails they send to passengers. Given about 10 million Canadians fly each year, with only a 4 percent response rate, the APO would have about 400,000 members.

“Given Boeing’s past fraud, deception and secrecy, it’s claims should not be believed now concerning the safety of the 737 Max,” Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “Before the 737 Max kills anyone else, the plane must be banned from flying in Canada.”

“A full public inquiry is needed as the public has a right to know how all the government’s decisions were made concerning the 737 Max,” said Conacher.

“To give airline passengers a strong voice in Canada, the federal government must establish an airline passengers organization, which can be done at no cost to the government, or the airlines, using an innovating method that has worked well in the U.S.,” said Conacher.

A U.S. Senate Committee report found that Boeing representatives violated rules by coaching test pilots during the testing of what Boeing claims is the 737 Max’s repaired flight control system. Boeing admitted it committed fraud in the initial approval process for the 737 Max. It continues to hide information about the plane, and refused to testify at House Transport Committee hearings.

Because of a loophole in Canada’s lobbying law, Boeing’s lobbying concerning the approval of the 737 Max to fly in Canada initially, and re-approval last December to fly again in Canada, is not required to be disclosed to the public.

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FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT:

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

Chris Moore
Email: [email protected]

Democracy Watch’s Corporate Responsibility Campaign and Government Ethics Campaign

Democracy Watch sues Integrity Commissioner for failing to penalize 6 of 7 lobbyists who violated the law in serious ways last year

Did Commissioner not penalize the 6 lobbyists because he was up for reappointment by party leaders and MPPs last fall?

Cases challenge 6 of rare public rulings – since 2018 Commissioner has made 763 secret rulings, and failed to penalize 23 of 27 lobbyists who violated law

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Thursday, March 4, 2021

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch announced that it has filed six applications in Ontario’s Divisional Court challenging rulings by Ontario’s Integrity Commissioner J. David Wake that failed to penalize six lobbyists who violated Ontario’s lobbying law in serious ways, mainly by failing to register and disclose their lobbying for a year or more. The Commissioner has failed to penalize 23 of 27 lobbyists (85%) who have violated the law since 2018.

During the 2019-2020 fiscal year, Commissioner Wake only penalized one lobbyist, Lawrence Gold, for violating Ontario’s Lobbyists Registration Act (LR Act) by failing to register and disclose his lobbying for a long period of time. The Commissioner only imposed the minimum penalty of naming Mr. Gold publicly.

Four of the other six lobbyists who were not penalized by the Commissioner, not even by naming them publicly, did exactly the same thing as Mr. Gold – they didn’t register and disclose their lobbying for a long period of time. The other two lobbyists violated the law by lobbying politicians after campaigning for them or giving them gifts, in violation of section 3.4 of the LR Act that prohibits lobbying any politician or other public office holder if it will create a real or potential conflict of interest or make it improper for them to further the interests of the lobbyist or their clients.

When the Integrity Commissioner lets a lobbyist off for a violation of the law, the lobbyist’s identity is kept secret, as are the details of their lobbying. The Commissioner can penalize a lobbyist for a violation of the LR Act by only naming them publicly or naming them and banning them from lobbying for up to two years (section 17.9).

Democracy Watch’s six cases, which will be heard by the Divisional Court in Toronto all together, challenge rulings #s 5, 14, 17 and 23 (the four lobbyists who also failed to register) and rulings #s 13 and 20 (the two lobbyists who violated the lobbying ethics rule) in the Commissioner’s 2019-2020 Annual Report. The six cases are Division Court file numbers 644/20, 645/20, 646/20, 647/20, 648/20 and 669/20. Nick Papageorge of Ross McBride LLP is representing Democracy Watch for the initial steps of the cases. Click here to see the Notice of Application challenging ruling #5 (the other five applications are very similar).

Democracy Watch also recently filed three applications in Ontario’s Divisional Court challenging three other rulings by Integrity Commissioner Wake that allowed lobbyists who worked on campaigns for Ontario politicians, or gave them gifts, to lobby the politicians soon afterwards. Nick Papageorge is also representing DWatch for those cases.

All nine cases also ask the courts to rule that Commissioner Wake was biased when he issued the six rulings, given he knew that he would need the unanimous approval of Ford’s Cabinet and all MPPs to be re-appointed for a second five-year term, which happened on December 1st (although many MPPs were not present for that snap vote).

“Ontario’s Integrity Commissioner has failed to penalize almost all the lobbyists he has found in violation of the lobbying law since 2018, and so Democracy Watch is taking the commissioner to court to challenge the worst of his many bad rulings,” Duff Conacher, co-founder of Democracy Watch. “Hopefully the courts will issue rulings that require the Commissioner to start enforcing the lobbying rules strictly and strongly by penalizing all lobbyists who violate the law.”

“Democracy Watch will continue challenging the Integrity Commissioner’s rulings in court, and his excessive secrecy including 763 secret decisions since 2018, as long as the Commissioner continues letting off lobbyists who violate the law by failing to disclose their lobbying or lobbying politicians unethically,” said Conacher.

763 secret rulings since 2018, all of which should be made public

Since April 2018, Commissioner Wake has issued 192 secret Advisory Opinions, closed 135 secret compliance reviews at the initial stage, and resolved 436 cases informally in secret (Click here to see Backgrounder on Integrity Commissioner’s Rulings 2018-2020). Because those 763 decisions were made in secret, it is unclear exactly how many other lobbyists Commissioner Wake has let off even though they violated the law.

Integrity Commissioner Wake has also taken the negligent position (in response to a letter sent by DWatch in January 2020) that he will only issue public summaries of his rulings in his annual report which is made public in June of each year, and covers the fiscal-year period which runs from April 1 to March 31 of the previous year.

This means if Commissioner Wake completes an investigation of a lobbyist after April 1st any year, he will not issue any information or a public ruling on that investigation until his annual report in June of the following year (14 months later), unless he decides to penalize the lobbyist (which he rarely decides to do).

Commissioner Wake also claimed in his 2018-2019 Annual Report (p. 47) that the advisory opinions he gives lobbyists under section 15 of the LR Act are confidential, but there is nothing in that section or anywhere in the LR Act that requires them to be kept secret. They are rulings, and the public has a right to know how the Commissioner has ruled every time. The Commissioner should at least issue a summary of every ruling.

There is nothing in the lobbying law that prohibits Integrity Commissioner Wake from issuing a public ruling on a lobbyist’s alleged violations of the law after he completes his investigation and the lobbyist has been given an opportunity to respond, and it is absurdly negligent for him to claim that the law allows him to wait a year or more to issue a public ruling, and to keep almost all his rulings secret,” said Conacher.

Huge loopholes in lobbying law make it legal to lobby secretly and unethically

As well, huge loopholes in the LR Act allow countless other lobbyists to lobby in secret and unethically. None of the following lobbying activities are required to be disclosed: unpaid lobbying, business lobbying or non-profit organization lobbying of less than 50 hours a year, lobbying about the enforcement of a law, or in response to a request for feedback from a Minister, official or MPP. As a result, anyone lobbying in these ways is also allowed to give gifts to and campaign, fundraise and do favours for Ontario Ministers, MPPs, political staff and government officials they are lobbying.

“Until huge loopholes are closed in the lobbying law, public officials are banned from lobbying for years after they leave their position, and the Integrity Commissioner enforces the law more strictly and strongly, secret, unethical lobbying will continue to corrupt Ontario government policy-making,” said Conacher.

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

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

International whistleblower protection report ranks Canada tied for last out of 62 countries with protections

Trudeau Cabinet rejected unanimous July 2017 House Committee report – all parties must work together to implement its recommendations now

Public Sector Integrity Commissioner Joe Friday should be fired as he has been found guilty three times by Federal Court of violating whistleblowers rights

Governments across Canada need to make all the changes needed to ensure government and business whistleblowers are fully protected

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Wednesday, March 3, 2021

OTTAWA – Today, in response to an international report that ranked Canada tied for last out of 62 countries with whistleblower protections (See pp. 10 and 75 of PDF of report), Democracy Watch called on the federal Liberals to strengthen whistleblower protection for everyone in federal politics, including political staff, and in all federally-regulated businesses.

The unanimous June 2017 report by the House of Commons Government Operations Committee called for many key changes to change the law and enforcement system to strengthen protection for whistleblowers who report wrongdoing by people in the federal government.

However, then-Treasury Board Minister Scott Brison rejected the Committee’s recommendations in an October 2017 letter – committing the government only to reinforcing the internal disclosure process. The Liberals’ Bill C-65 in 2018 did nothing to change the Canada Labour Code’s requirement that federal workplace victims file complaints with their boss, who is often the harasser, and so it left political staff and other whistleblowers essentially unprotected.

On February 25th, the House Committee voted to send its June 2017 report back to the House of Commons to force the Trudeau Cabinet to respond to it again. Click here to see Backgrounder on Key Developments in Federal Whistleblower Protection since 2017.

Democracy Watch appeared before the House Committee twice, and its submission included the Change.org petition that more than 22,000 voters signed calling for 17 key changes by the federal government to protect people who blow the whistle on government and big business abuse, waste and law-breaking. As several recent scandals have shown, such protection is much needed.

Democracy Watch’s submission also repeated the call it has made since 2015 for members of Canada’s armed forces, and the RCMP, be covered by the federal whistleblower protection law. The Committee unfortunately did not include this recommendation in its report. Recent scandals in the military have shown how much this protection is needed.

“The international report shows yet again how much the Trudeau Liberals have failed to protect whistleblowers, and continue to let people in federal politics who do wrong threaten and attack people who try to disclose their wrongdoing,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch and Ph.D. student at the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law. “The House Committee, public sector unions and citizen watchdog groups have been unanimously calling for key changes to strengthen whistleblower protection for years, as have tens of thousands of voters who have signed a national petition, so there is no reason for the Liberals to fail to work together with the other parties in this minority government and finally make these much-needed changes.”

Democracy Watch also called on Parliament to fire Public Sector Integrity Commissioner Joe Friday, finally, as he was for the third time found guilty in December 2017 by the Federal Court of violating a whistleblower’s rights.

“The federal Liberals claimed in their 2015 election platform that greater openness and transparency are fundamental to restoring trust in Canada’s democracy but if they don’t strengthen whistleblower protection and use an independent process to appoint a new, effective Integrity Commissioner, they will continue breaking their open government promise in this key way,” said Conacher.

“Unfortunately, the House Committee did not recommend in its June 2017 report any changes to strengthen protection for whistleblowers who work for federal politicians or for businesses that are regulated by the federal government, and the Liberals also need to make those changes to help stop the widespread, serious wrongdoing and abuse caused by politicians and people in Canada’s big banks and other financial institutions, and in airlines, phone, cable TV, food, mining and forestry companies,” said Conacher.

Section 334 of the Liberals’ Bill C-86 in 2018 was supposed to add sections 979.1 to 979.4 to the Bank Act to create a right for bank employees to blow the whistle on wrongdoing, but the measures have still not been implemented (not that having the right to blow the whistle is enough protection to actually encourage and support whistleblowers).

Measures to strengthen whistleblower protection are needed across Canada. Democracy Watch will continue its ProtectWhistleblowers.ca letter-writing campaign and petition until these changes are made.

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

Democracy Watch’s Protect Whistleblowers Who Protect You Campaign

Trudeau Liberals’ predictable appointments scandal could have been prevented


The following op-ed by Democracy Watch Co-founder Duff Conacher was published by Troy Media (and 9 other media outlets) on February 21, 2021, and by the Hill Times on February 25, 2021, and in the Hamilton Spectator on March 4, 2021.


Throughout 2016, after they were first elected, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his ministers claimed again and again that they were making significant changes to the Cabinet appointment system to ensure it was “transparent, open and merit-based.” Very unfortunately, literally every media outlet believed and reported the claims without checking whether they were true.

At the beginning of 2017, the Liberals issued an announcement saying the changes had been made, and media across Canada echoed the claim, again without any verification.

For a couple of years afterwards, as is often the case, the media was reluctant to cover evidence of its own negligence. What the Trudeau Liberals had claimed must be true because the media had reported it as being true.

However, the evidence was mounting that the Liberals were blowing smoke. First, incredibly, former Ontario Liberal MPP Madeleine Meilleur admitted in spring 2017 before a House Committee that when she was considering ending her political career she had talked with Trudeau’s then-senior adviser Gerald Butts, and also his Chief of Staff Katie Telford, and asked to be appointed as federal Commissioner of Official Languages.

Her statement became so politically costly to the Trudeau Cabinet that she ended up withdrawing her candidacy.

Then, in June 2017, the Liberals made the very questionable claim that they couldn’t find replacements for then-Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson and then-Commissioner of Lobbying Karen Shepherd, and so they had to re-appoint them for a third temporary six-month term. The opposition leaders pushed Trudeau to consult with them on appointments of these and other key watchdogs, and have a House committee review a short list of candidates for each position, as a committee does for such appointments in B.C.

However, the Liberals refused to give up control of the levers of patronage, even for those two government watchdogs whose offices were both investigating Trudeau and some of his Cabinet ministers for wrongdoing. In late November 2017, the Liberals suddenly announced they had finally found new commissioners. They claimed the best people they could find in Canada for Ethics Commissioner were Mario Dion, and for Lobbying Commissioner Nancy Bélanger.

It was truly unbelievable. Dion had a record of eight unethical actions in his former job as federal Integrity Commissioner. Just after he started that job, he illegally tipped off his friend, then-Clerk of the Privy Council (PCO) Wayne Wouters, that a whistleblower had filed a complaint about his office. He refused to re-examine fully more than 220 past whistleblower complaints that had been buried by the former commissioner, and he went on to be found guilty twice of violating whistleblowers’ rights, and of gross mismanagement in two other situations.

Meanwhile, Bélanger hadn’t even applied for the job – she had instead applied to be Information Commissioner where she was already general counsel. She has gone on to increase secrecy in her office’s operations, let two big business directors off the hook who held fundraising events Trudeau attended that raised tens of thousands dollars for the Liberals, while their companies were lobbying Trudeau and other Liberals, and made many other bad decisions.

Access to information requests have revealed that the Liberals lied to opposition parties as they had found other qualified candidates for both commissioner positions by spring 2017. However, three years later the Information Commissioner’s office continues to investigate why the PCO is hiding details about how Commissioner Bélanger was handpicked by Trudeau.

Through 2017-2018, the Trudeau Liberals chose a new Information Commissioner, Privacy Commissioner, Parliamentary Budget Officer, Auditor General, Chief Electoral Officer and Governor General, all key guardians of our democracy, using similar secretive, dishonest, unethical, Cabinet-controlled processes.

And, in the past year, a whistleblower has disclosed internal government emails that show the Trudeau Liberals even check not only with Cabinet ministers and MPs, but also party members, before making decisions about whom to appoint as judges. It’s another politicized process that raises questions about the impartiality of the judges they have appointed (past governments likely did the same, but evidence proving that has never been disclosed).

Most recently, after the Governor General scandal broke wide open and Julie Payette resigned, Trudeau again claimed that his appointment process was open, transparent and merit-based. However, like so many of Trudeau’s answers to questions about his own wrongdoing, his claim was a sad joke.

His own minister, and friend, Dominic LeBlanc (whose sister-in-law is head of investigations for Ethics Commissioner Dion), had just before admitted that the vetting had not been strong enough. And then “sources” told reporters (finally) that the Cabinet had not even checked Payette’s record with organizations she had worked with in the past.

What are the lessons from Trudeau’s ongoing scandalous record of appointments? First, as the media should know after decades of covering misleading politicians, don’t report any politician’s claims without checking them first, even during their so-called “honeymoon” first year after they are elected. Only about 20 percent of voters keep up with news, and only 10 percent of those people read beyond the headlines, so if your media outlet’s headline unquestioningly reports a politician’s claim, you are helping mislead voters.

If the media had questioned the Trudeau Cabinet’s appointment process claims and reported how false they were, very likely the Cabinet would have been forced to establish an actually open and merit-based process.

Secondly, the media should regularly cover the secrecy concerning any claim made by any politician. The secrecy is the story, and if the media doesn’t cover it, they are helping with the cover-up.

Finally, no one involved in law enforcement or watching over politicians, lobbyists or government institutions can be appointed can be appointed by the ruling party Cabinet alone, especially watchdogs who enforce laws that apply to Cabinet. Cabinet ministers are biased, as the Federal Court of Appeal ruled in January 2020, and when they control such appointments it dangerously undermines our democracy and fair law enforcement.

Fully independent commissions need to be established across Canada to do public, merit-based searches for a short list of qualified candidates for all of these positions, and then a multi-party committee should be required to choose from that short list.

Duff Conacher is co-founder of Democracy Watch, and a Ph.D. student in law at the University of Ottawa


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

DWatch calls on Ethics Commissioner to issue ruling on its July 2019 complaint about appointments of judges connected to Dominic LeBlanc

Ethics Commissioner committed to issue rulings on all complaints, but his senior lawyer is LeBlanc’s sister-in-law – is this why no ruling has been issued?

Democracy Watch filed court case last November challenging federal judicial appointment system for being too political

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Thursday, February 25, 2021

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch released the letter it has sent to federal Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion calling on him to issue a ruling, finally, on Democracy Watch’s complaint filed in July 2019 requesting an investigation into whether Trudeau Cabinet Minister Dominic LeBlanc participated in the appointment process for judges in New Brunswick with financial and other connections to him.

When testifying before the House Ethics Committee in December 2017 about his appointment, Commissioner Dion committed to issue a public ruling on every complaint he received. Yet more than 18 months have passed and still no ruling.

Democracy Watch filed a court case last November challenging the federal judicial appointment process for being too political because the Minister of Justice controls the process too much, including consulting with other ministers, and Liberal MPs and party members before making the final choice about who will be appointed.

“Given Democracy Watch filed its complaint in July 2019, Ethics Commissioner Dion’s ruling on Dominic LeBlanc’s participation in appointing New Brunswick judges who have connections to him is long overdue,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “Given what has been revealed over the past year about how the federal Minister of Justice consults with other ministers about the appointments of judges in their provinces, it is difficult to believe that Dominic LeBlanc did not participate in the process appointing these judges who have financial and other connections to him.”

“Has Commissioner Dion not issued a ruling because he was handpicked by the Trudeau Cabinet through a biased, secretive, dishonest process, and his senior lawyer is LeBlanc’s sister-in-law? Commissioner Dion should have long ago delegated the investigation to someone independent of his office and all political parties,” said Conacher.

“The Trudeau Liberal Cabinet appointment system is essentially the same as the Harper Conservatives used, and it allows Cabinet ministers to choose their own Liberal party cronies as judges, and to choose lapdogs instead of watchdogs,” said Conacher. “To stop this dangerously undemocratic and unethical appointment process for all judges and democratic good government watchdogs, the appointment process should be suspended until, as in the UK and Ontario, fully independent committees are created to conduct public, merit-based searches for short lists of well-qualified nominees, with Cabinet required to choose from the lists.”

As first reported by CBC New Brunswick, Justice Charles LeBlond who was appointed to the New Brunswick Court of Appeal, and Justice Arthur Doyle and Justice Robert Dysart who were appointed to the New Brunswick Court of Queen’s Bench, all donated to help Minister LeBlanc pay off his debt from his 2008 Liberal Party leadership race campaign. GlobalNews.ca reported other donations made by these three justices to Minister LeBlanc’s riding association, and to the Liberal Party.

These outlets also reported that Jacques Pinet, the husband of Tracey DeWare, who was appointed Chief Justice of the Court of Queen’s Bench by Prime Minister Trudeau in June, also donated to Minister LeBlanc’s campaign, among other donations to the Liberal Party. CBC also reported that the couple purchased a seaside home from Minister LeBlanc in 2013 for $430,000, located next to Minister LeBlanc’s summerhouse.

Democracy Watch also revealed that, according to Minister LeBlanc’s federal ethics disclosure registration, sometime in 2017, a Jacques Pinet, Vice-President, Assumption Life Insurance Co. of New Brunswick, gave Minister LeBlanc a gift of 3 days hospitality at Ledges Lodge, Doarktown, New Brunswick. If this is the same Jacques Pinet who is married to Chief Justice DeWare, it would only compound the appearance of conflict of interest for Minister LeBlanc.

The Globe and Mail reported that Minister LeBlanc participated in the decisions for all of these appointments, while recusing himself from the appointment of one other judge who is a relative of his.

Section 4 and subsection 6(1) of the COIA together prohibit public office holders like Cabinet ministers from making or taking part in decisions when they have an opportunity to further their own, their family’s or their friends’ private interests, or improperly furthering another person’s interests (and section 9 prohibits trying to influence such decision, and section 8 prohibits using inside information to further a private interest). Democracy Watch’s position is that appointing someone as a judge furthers their private interest, and that “friends” should be defined by the Ethics Commissioner as including political friends such as significant supporters of the governing party.

In any case, it is improper for a minister to take part in a decision that affects any person who is their friend or has given them donations or gifts.

While the Trudeau Liberals added the goal of diversity for appointments, and reduced the number of members chosen by the Minister of Justice from four to three out of seven judicial advisory committee members, the committees still produce long lists of candidates which allow the Minister and Cabinet to appoint essentially whomever they want as a judge.

For quasi-judicial positions like key government watchdogs, Liberal Cabinet ministers still choose all advisory committee members and control the appointment process completely.

Democracy Watch also called on federal politicians to change the law to ensure all Cabinet appointees who watch over the government or oversee key democracy laws (especially every Officer of Parliament) be only allowed to serve one term.

“Like judges, all government and democracy watchdogs must only serve one term, with no possibility that the government can reappoint them, to ensure watchdogs don’t try to please the government in order to keep their job,” said Conacher.

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

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