OTTAWA — Ethics commissioner Mary Dawson released a report Wednesday concluding Prime Minister Justin Trudeau violated conflict of interest rules when he vacationed last Christmas at the private island owned by the Aga Khan. Here are five key findings from the report:
1. The Aga Khan did not meet the definition of a friend.
There is an exception in the Conflict of Interest Act for gifts or other advantages from relatives and friends, but Dawson found it did not apply in this case. Dawson's report said the Aga Khan's relationship with Trudeau's father, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, developed in the 1960s. That family friendship facilitated the current prime minister's friendship with the Aga Khan, but Dawson said it was still unlikely the vacation offer would have been extended to Trudeau "had there not been official interactions between the government of Canada and the Aga Khan and had Mr. Trudeau not become a significant player on the Canadian political scene."
Trudeau said Wednesday he still sees the spiritual leader to be a "family friend" despite Dawson's determination.
2. The prime minister broke the rules on gifts.
Dawson found Trudeau breached section 11 the act pertaining to gifts or "other advantages" when he and members of his family accepted the Aga Khan's "gift of hospitality" and the use of his private island. There were official dealings with the Aga Khan and his foundation — the Aga Khan Foundation of Canada — who were registered to lobby the Prime Minister's Office, Dawson said. She said the vacations could reasonably be seen to have been given to influence Mr. Trudeau in his capacity as prime minister.
3. Flights were an issue.
Dawson found Trudeau breached another section of the act when his family travelled on a non-commercial aircraft chartered by the Aga Khan in March 2016 and when he and his family travelled in the spiritual leader's private helicopter in December 2016. The act bars ministers and their family members from accepting travel on non-commercial chartered or private aircraft for any purpose unless it is in their capacity as public office holders, in exceptional circumstances or with the prior approval of the commissioner — none of which Dawson found in this case.
4. Trudeau failed to take steps to arrange his private affairs.
Dawson found the prime minister failed to arrange his private business in a way that would prevent him from being placed in a conflict of interest when his family vacation on the Aga Khan's private island in March 2016, and when Trudeau joined them on the island in December 2016.
Trudeau told Dawson he felt he could pursue a friendship with the Aga Khan after becoming Liberal leader, and then prime minister. Dawson called this understandable in light of the previous family connection and the fact they share common ideals and goals. However, she said Trudeau must put on hold his pursuit of friendships with individuals he is likely to have official dealings with: "Mr. Trudeau must ensure that he has arranged his private affairs so that they are not incompatible with his public duties as prime minister of Canada."
5. Trudeau failed to recuse himself from talks that gave an opportunity to further interests with the Aga Khan:
Dawson said Trudeau broke section 21 of the Conflict of Interest Act when he failed to remove himself from discussions that provided an opportunity to advance private interests associated with institutions of the Aga Khan. This part of the act requires public office holders to recuse themselves from any discussion, decision, debate or vote on any matter they would be in a conflict of interest.
However, Dawson said Trudeau didn't take part in any votes or decisions, nor provide the Aga Khan's foundation any preferential treatment.
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