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Group calls on Auditor General to audit performance of federal Ethics Commissioner given negligently weak enforcement record that is a sad joke

Since 2007, likely more than 1,700 politicians or officials have violated Conflict of Interest Act or MPs Code – but Ethics Commissioner has only found 12 guilty

Ethics Commissioner doesn’t do any audits of polticians and officials activities so likely only 5% of violators are caught – enforcement must be strengthened

Since 2007, Ethics Commissioner has decided not to penalize 76 of 88 people (86%) she has investigated for violating the COIA or MPs Code (and she has let another 218 people off in secret rulings – so overall only 4.7% have been found guilty)

Ethics Commissioner has not found a Liberal guilty since the Liberals were elected in October 2015 despite many clear violations – she is biased as Trudeau Cabinet has handed her 3 six-month contracts worth $100,000 each since June 2016


Thursday, November 30, 2017

OTTAWA – In an open letter sent today, Democracy Watch called on the Auditor General to audit federal Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson’s enforcement record similar to the review the auditor did in 2010 of the very negligently weak enforcement record of the former federal Integrity Commissioner.  Commissioner Shepherd is the enforcer of the Conflict of Interest Act (“COIA”) and the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons (“MPs Code”).  Her enforcement record is as bad as the former Integrity Commissioner’s record.

Democracy Watch recently called for a similar audit of federal Lobbying Commissioner and the RCMP for their negligently weak record in enforcing the Lobbying Act and the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct.

According to her annual reports, from April 1, 2007 up to March 31, 2017, the Ethics Commissioner completed 253 investigations of violations of the ethics rules in the COIA and the MPs Code (not including administrative reviews of things like filing accurate reports by required deadlines).  However, she released only 35 public rulings which means she made 218 secret rulings (86.1% of all rulings).

In every one of those 218 secret rulings, Commissioner Dawson found the person not guilty of violating the COIA and/or the MPs Code.  It is impossible to tell whether these were correct rulings because Commissioner Dawson’s annual reports before 2012-2013 didn’t provide any details about these rulings, and her annual reports from 2012-2013 on provide few details of the situations she investigated that led to these 218 secret rulings.

In Commissioner Dawson’s 35 public rulings, a total of 88 people were investigated for alleged violations – 12 were found guilty (13.6% ), and 76 were found innocent (86.3%).

As a result, overall of the 253 case investigations Commissioner Dawson ruled on from April 1, 2007 up to March 31, 2017, she ruled that the person investigated was guilty of violating the COIA or the MPs Code in only 4.7% of the cases.

Ethics Commissioner Dawson doesn’t mention in her annual reports that she conducts any audits, random or otherwise, of any information Cabinet ministers, Cabinet staff and appointees, and MPs submit to her or of any MP activities.  The Ethics Commissioner may have contact with a newly elected MP or newly appointed Cabinet minister, staff or appointee as they file their initial information, and then that information is reviewed annually under the MPs Code (clause 20(1)(ii)) and COIA (section 28).

However, the information that public office holders — Cabinet ministers, Cabinet staff and appointees, and MPs — disclose to the Ethics Commissioner is not audited by the Commissioner or anyone in her office.  Commissioner Dawson has testified before a House Committee more than once that she simply trusts that everyone is telling her the truth.  Because she doesn’t do any inspections or audits – which experts in law enforcement agree is necessary for effective law enforcement –  Ethics Commissioner has never caught a public office holder violating the COIA or the MPs Code.

As a result, likely she has caught only 5% of the people have done wrong – which means that likely more than 1,700 federal politicians and top government officials have violated the COIA or MPs Code since 2007.

According to Ethics Commissioner Dawson’s 2016-2017 annual report, at any one time since 2012, on average approximately 2,500 public office holders have been covered by the COIA, and 338 MPs by the MPs Code (some of whom are Cabinet MPs covered also by the COIA).   Also according to that annual report, 3,845 public office holders left office between April 1, 2012 and March 31, 2017.  Assuming approximately the same number of public office holders covered by the COIA and MP Code left their position from 2007 to 2012, over the past 10 years the Ethics Commissioner would have enforced rules that cover approximately 10,000 people.

So, overall the Ethics Commissioner has only found an implausibly low 0.12% of public office holders in violation of the COIA or the MPs Code since 2007.

In addition, Ethics Commissioner Dawson has not found any Liberal guilty of violating the ethics rules in the COIA or MPs Code since the Liberals were elected in October 2015.

Ethics Commissioner Dawson made many very questionable rulings (and made up many loopholes in federal ethics rules) from when she was appointed in 2007 up to June 2015. Since then, Commissioner Dawson has continued at the same high rate to let people off the hook for clear violations, including the following public cases:

“Ethics Commissioner Dawson has clearly failed to enforce the federal ethics law and code effectively as she has let 95 percent of alleged violators off the hook, and since 2007 has only found 12 of 10,000 people covered by the rules in violation of the rules,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch and Part-time Professor of law and political science at the University of Ottawa. “The Ethics Commissioner has a negligently weak enforcement record as bad as the former Integrity Commissioner’s record, and so Democracy Watch is calling on the Auditor General to do a similar review as the auditor did in 2010 of the former Integrity Commissioner’s performance.”

Democracy Watch has filed a court case challenging the Ethics Commissioner for being in a conflict of interest because the Trudeau Cabinet’s re-appointed her last June to her third six-month interim term — so she is essentially currently serving at the pleasure of the Trudeau Cabinet.

Democracy Watch also recently filed a court case challenging the Ethics Commissioner’s ruling that it was fine for Liberal Finance Minister Morneau to own shares in his family company after he became Finance Minister.  Democracy Watch is also challenging the Ethics Commissioner’s illegal ethics screens in court because they cover up whether ministers are stepping aside because of conflicts of interest.

“The Trudeau Cabinet’s decision last spring to rehire lapdog Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson while she was investigating Trudeau smells as unethically bad as Trump’s decision to fire watchdog FBI head James Comey while he was investigating Trump,” said Conacher.  “The Trudeau Cabinet handed a $100,000 contract to the person judging whether Trudeau and other ministers violated a federal law, and that is clearly unethical and also puts the Ethics Commissioner in a conflict of interest that makes her biased in favour of Trudeau and his ministers.”

Democracy Watch also called on the Trudeau Cabinet to end their conflict-ridden charade and ensure that Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson and Lobbying Commissioner Karen Shepherd are replaced before January 2018 when their current six-month contracts end.  “In the past decade, the Ethics Commissioner and Lobbying Commissioner have been negligently weak lapdogs whose bad rulings have let dozens of people off the hook for clear violations, and the sooner they are gone the better,” said Conacher.

In addition to stronger enforcement, as the recent scandal involving Minister Morneau has shown clearly (yet again), the Conflict of Interest Act (“COIA”) and MPs Code both need to be strengthened in all the ways that Democracy Watch recommended in 2013, to ensure ethical government decision-making, and that most violators will be caught and effectively penalized.

Former Treasury Board Minister Tony Clement and the Harper Conservative government failed to do anything to implemented any changes after a House Committee reviewed the law and code in 2013, and the Liberals failed to include any promises to make changes in their 2015 election platform.  The House Committee is required to review the Lobbying Act in 2018.

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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 Audit Ethics Commissioner and Lobbying Commissioner Campaign page