Federal Court ruling also extended lobbying disclosure and ethics rules to many more business, union and organization board members, and expanded Lobbying Commissioner’s investigation mandate
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Thursday, December 12, 2019
OTTAWA – Today, the Trudeau Liberals’ appeal of the Federal Court ruling that Democracy Watch won at the end of last March that ordered the federal Commissioner of Lobbying to investigate further the Aga Khan’s Bahamas trip gift to Prime Minister Trudeau is being heard by Federal Court of the Appeal in Ottawa. Sebastian Spano is representing Democracy Watch in the appeal, which is Court File #A-159-19.
The Lobbyists’ Code, which the Commissioner enforces, prohibits lobbyists registered under the Lobbying Act from doing anything for, or giving anything to, anyone they are lobbying, and requires compliance with several strongly worded principles.
Former Commissioner of Lobbying Karen Shepherd’s secret September 2017 ruling stated even though the Aga Khan was lobbying the PM, and is chair of the Aga Khan Foundation, which is registered to lobby the PM, because someone at the Foundation claimed the Aga Khan wasn’t paid to lobby for it, the Lobbying Act and Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct were not violated.
The Federal Court ruling rejected Commissioner Shepherd’s ruling as “unreasonable” because it was “a narrow, technical, and targeted analysis that is lacking in transparency, justification, and intelligibility when considered in the context the Commissioner’s duties and functions” (para. 146). As a result, the court ordered the Commissioner of Lobbying (now Nancy Bélanger) to re-examine the actions of everyone at the Aga Khan Foundation with “a broad view of the circumstances.”
Democracy Watch is arguing that the Federal Court’s ruling properly required that the Commissioner investigate everyone at the Aga Khan Foundation, especially the senior officer who is required to ensure that everyone at the foundation complies with the lobbying law and code. Democracy Watch also supports the parts of the Federal Court ruling that extended the federal lobbying law and code to cover essentially all board members of businesses, unions and other organizations, and that strengthened the requirement that the Commissioner of Lobbying investigate any situation that raises questions about possible violations.
The Trudeau government, represented by the Attorney General of Canada, is arguing that Commissioner Shepherd’s decision to stop her investigation and clear the Aga Khan was reasonable, and that the Federal Court’s ruling should have respected the Commissioner’s authority and not overruled her decision. The Trudeau government also argues that parts of the Federal Court’s ruling were improper because they extended the lobbying law’s disclosure and enforcement requirements further than Parliament intended.
“By appealing the Federal Court’s ruling, the Trudeau Liberals are wasting taxpayers’ money on protecting Trudeau’s old family friend the Aga Khan from accountability for unethical lobbying,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “The Trudeau Liberals’ appeal of this case also supports allowing many board members of businesses, unions and other organizations to continue lobbying in secret, and allowing the Lobbying Commissioner to continue her negligently weak enforcement of the federal lobbying law and code.”
The Federal Court ruling also greatly broadened the scope of the Lobbying Act to cover board members of businesses and other organizations who are compensated in any way or receive “anything of value” – including even the value of being given a position as a member of board (paras. 134-143). Up to now, the Lobbying Commissioner has interpreted the Act as requiring board members to disclose their lobbying in the Registry of Lobbyists only if they were paid more than their expenses. The Federal Court rejected that narrow interpretation.
The Federal Court’s ruling also required the Commissioner of Lobbying to investigate and issue a public ruling whenever there are “potential compliance questions” (para. 133) concerning the actions of anyone, or any business or organization that relate to the requirements of the Lobbying Act or Lobbyists’ Code (paras. 127-134). In the past, the Lobbying Commissioner has regularly ignored situations that raised such questions.
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FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT:
Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch
Tel: (613) 241-5179
Democracy Watch’s Government Ethics Campaign