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Elizabeth Thompson · CBC News : Democracy Watch asks court to force Lobbying Commissioner to investigate Aga Khan

May 21st, 2018 | by Richard Paul
Elizabeth Thompson · CBC News : Democracy Watch asks court to force Lobbying Commissioner to investigate Aga Khan
Business and Finance
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Conference workers speak in front of a demo booth at Facebook's annual F8 developer conference, in San Jose, Calif. in this April 18, 2017 file photo A Facebook executive with ties to the ruling Liberals was grilled today about his preferential access to senior members of the Trudeau cabinet, even though no one from the social-media giant, including himself, is a registered lobbyist in Canada. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Noah Berger

Conference workers speak in front of a demo booth at Facebook’s annual F8 developer conference, in San Jose, Calif. in this April 18, 2017 file photo A Facebook executive with ties to the ruling Liberals was grilled today about his preferential access to senior members of the Trudeau cabinet, even though no one from the social-media giant, including himself, is a registered lobbyist in Canada. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Noah Berger

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Democracy Watch asks court to force Lobbying Commissioner to investigate Aga Khan

Group says lobbying watchdog should probe Trudeau’s trip to Aga Khan’s island

Democracy Watch is calling on the Federal Court to quash the Lobbying Commissioner’s decision not to investigate the Aga Khan for giving Prime Minister Justin Trudeau the gift of a vacation on his island in the Bahamas. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Democracy Watch is calling on the Federal Court to overturn former lobbying commissioner Karen Shepherd’s decision not to investigate the Aga Khan in connection with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s visit to his private island in the Bahamas.

The group is arguing that Shepherd erred in law when she ruled in September 2017 that the Aga Khan didn’t violate the lobbying rules because he is not paid to lobby on behalf of the foundation that bears his name.

“Democracy Watch is challenging the Lobbying Commissioner’s ruling in court, because it is legally incorrect, violates the spirit and purpose of the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct and opens up a huge loophole that big businesses and other organizations will exploit by having their unregistered board members or staff do favours for, and give gifts to, government officials they are lobbying as a way of unethically influencing their policy making decisions,” Democracy Watch co-founder Duff Conacher said in a statement.

Democracy Watch also alleges in court documents that there is “a reasonable apprehension of bias” on Shepherd’s part, because her mandate was temporarily renewed by Trudeau’s government.

Shepherd’s decision not to investigate the Aga Khan was obtained by CBC News in December. She has since finished her term and was replaced by Nancy Bélanger in December.

The Aga Khan, believed to be one of the wealthiest individuals in the world, is the spiritual leader of millions of Ismaili Muslims and is listed as a member of the board of directors of the Aga Khan Foundation Canada.

The foundation, which has received millions of dollars in federal government development aid over the years, is registered to lobby several federal government departments, including the prime minister’s office.

A search of the lobbyist registry shows the foundation has filed 132 reports since 2011 outlining its meetings with government decision makers. However, none of those reports list any meetings with Trudeau — despite the meetings the prime minister has had with the Aga Khan and his officials.

Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson ruled in December that Trudeau violated federal ethics rules when he accepted the vacation on the Aga Khan’s private island.

In December, Manon Dion, spokeswoman for the lobbying commissioner’s office, said the commissioner is free to open or reopen files at any time.

Tuesday, she was tight-lipped when asked for reaction.

“The Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct applies to individuals who engage in activity requiring registration under the Lobbying Act; that is, they are paid or employed to communicate with public office holders on behalf of their client or employer with respect to subjects specified in the Lobbying Act,” she wrote in an e-mailed response.

“As the matter is before the courts, we will not comment further.”

Elizabeth Thompson can be reached at elizabeth.thompson@cbc.ca

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Elizabeth Thompson

Senior Reporter

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Award-winning reporter Elizabeth Thompson covers Parliament Hill. A veteran of the Montreal Gazette, Sun Media and iPolitics, she currently works with the CBC’s Ottawa bureau, specializing in investigative reporting and data journalism. She can be reached at: elizabeth.thompson@cbc.ca.

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