Mr. Chair and honourable members of the committee, I understand that you've invited me to appear before you today to speak about “The Trudeau Report”. I'm not sure what I can add to what I've said in the report, but I'll try to answer any questions the committee may have.
I released “TheTrudeau Report” on December 20, 2017. It contains the conclusions of the examination I carried out under the Conflict of Interest Act and of the inquiry I conducted pursuant to the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons.
I will limit my observations today to issues pertaining to the act, in light of the mandate of the committee.
I understand that you also want to talk about the amendments that I've proposed, and we'll see what we can do about that. It's not what I've focused on in the last couple of weeks, but I have a copy of them here and whatnot.
I launched the examination and inquiry into Mr. Trudeau's conduct in January 2017 in response to requests for investigation from two members of the House of Commons. Those requests were prompted by media coverage of a vacation that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his family, along with several friends and their families, took on a private island owned by the Aga Khan from December 26, 2016 to January 4, 2017. I subsequently learned that Mr. Trudeau, his family, and other relatives had also vacationed on the island in December 2014, and members of his family and their guests had done so in March 2016 as well.
The Aga Khan, as the founder and chair of various charitable organizations, has a long-standing relationship with the Government of Canada, which since 1981 has contributed nearly $330 million to projects supported by the Aga Khan Foundation Canada. The foundation's CEO is registered to lobby the Government of Canada, including the Prime Minister's Office.
Briefly, I found that Mr. Trudeau contravened four provisions of the Conflict of Interest Act, namely sections 5, 11, 12, and 21. I found that he did not contravene two other provisions: subsection 6(1) and section 7 of the act. I also found that he did not contravene the members' code.
As most of my findings hinged on Mr. Trudeau's acceptance on behalf of himself and his family the gifts of vacations on the Aga Khan's private island, I'll speak specifically about my findings of a contravention of subsection 11(1) of the act.
Subsection 11(1) sets out the act's gift rule. It prohibits public office holders and their family members from accepting “any gift or other advantage...that might reasonably be seen to have been given to influence the public office holder in the exercise of an official power, duty or function.” The test is not whether the donor intended to influence the recipient or whether the recipient was indeed influenced, but whether it might reasonably be seen that the gift or other advantage was given for that reason.
The evidence showed that there was ongoing official business between the Government of Canada and the Aga Khan and his institutions at the time each invitation to visit the island was accepted and that Mr. Trudeau, as Prime Minister, was in a position to be able to advance some of the matters of interest to the Aga Khan, whether he did so or not. I therefore found that the gifts could reasonably be seen to have been given to influence Mr. Trudeau “in the exercise of an official power, duty or function.”
Subsection 11(2) sets out a number of exceptions to the gift rule set out in 11(1), including where the gift or other advantage is from a relative or friend, so I had to consider whether Mr. Trudeau and the Aga Khan were friends for the purposes of the act, and interestingly, that exception is not in the code; there's not an exception for friends in the code.
The act does not define the word “friend”. It's a word that's used in different ways by different people and can apply to a range of relationships, from the closest of lifelong companions to neighbours, colleagues, acquaintances, or business associates who see each other only occasionally and have little emotional attachment.
Mr. Trudeau's relationship with the Aga Khan was based on a family connection rooted in a friendship between the Aga Khan and Mr. Trudeau's father. However, Mr. Trudeau had no personal or private interactions with the Aga Khan from 1983 until 2013, when Mr. Trudeau became leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, other than on the occasion of his father's funeral.
These factors led me to conclude that their relationship could not be described as one of friends for the purposes of the act, bearing in mind that friends can have all sorts of different meanings to different people. Instead, it appears to be one of two world leaders with common ideas and goals who have great respect for each other and whose families share a connection.
I also observed in “The Trudeau Report” that Mr. Trudeau said that he felt that as Prime Minister, he could now pursue a friendship with the Aga Khan. However, public office holders must put on hold the pursuit of friendships with individuals with whom they are likely to have official dealings when they are in public office.
“The Trudeau Report” has focused renewed attention on the Conflict of Interest Act and its perceived weaknesses, particularly the lack of penalties for breaches of its substantive provisions. The only penalties it provides for are administrative monetary penalties, which the commissioner may impose on reporting public office holders who fail to meet certain reporting requirements of the act.
I'm not of the view that more stringent penalties are required. It was never Parliament's intention that the act form part of the criminal system. Indeed, the act requires the commissioner to suspend an examination and notify the relevant authorities if he or she has reasonable grounds to believe that an offence has been committed under another act of Parliament. In my view, publicity and the test of re-election make up the appropriate form of redress for contraventions of the act and are sufficient to encourage compliance.
I also wish to address some comments that have been made on the time required to complete this report.
In my years as commissioner, I conducted all my examinations thoroughly and with a high degree of diligence, in keeping with the standards and practices I established for the office, the requirements of the act, and respect for procedural fairness. In each of my reports I provided a detailed description of the process that was followed and the information that was obtained. The amount of time it took to complete this or any other examination depended on a number of factors. They included the number of investigations under way, the number of case files being reviewed, the delays in scheduling witnesses and obtaining relevant documents from a variety of sources, and the report drafting and editing process, which can take some time as well.
Before I conclude my opening statement, I note that the committee has undertaken to conduct a new review of the act in early 2018. My experience in the last 10 years has been that the act has worked well overall. However, I believe there's room for improvement. I listed a large number of suggestions in the submission I made to this committee at the time of the five-year review. I'd be pleased to discuss my recommendations for amendments with the committee when it takes up the study.
Now I'll be happy—I hope—to answer any questions the committee may have.
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!