Trudeau's vacation broke ethics rules

Canadian PM's stay on billionaire's private island ruled a breach but carries no sanctions

OTTAWA • Prime Minister Justin Trudeau broke ethics rules when he and his family vacationed on the private island of billionaire philanthropist and spiritual leader the Aga Khan, Canada's ethics watchdog has ruled.

The breach is the first ever by a sitting Canadian prime minister, but carries with it no sanctions.

In a statement on Wednesday, Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson said the Trudeau family's post-Christmas vacation last year contravened the Conflict of Interest Act.

A March 2016 trip to Bells Cay taken by members of his family also created a predicament for the Prime Minister, she said.

Ms Dawson noted that Mr Trudeau did not discuss any government business with the Aga Khan or his representatives, nor did he debate or vote in Parliament on any matters related to the Aga Khan or his institutions.

But, she added, the Prime Minister did contravene conflict of interest rules by accepting travel to and from the island and accommodation.

"When Mr Trudeau, as Prime Minister, accepted the gifts of hospitality from the Aga Khan and the use of his private island in March and December 2016, there were ongoing official dealings with the Aga Khan, and the Aga Khan Foundation Canada was registered to lobby his office," Ms Dawson said.

"Therefore, the vacations... could reasonably be seen to have been given to influence Mr Trudeau in his capacity as Prime Minister."

The commissioner also found that Mr Trudeau broke the rules when he did not recuse himself from discussions of matters that could "further private interests associated with institutions of the Aga Khan".

The Aga Khan Foundation has received hundreds of millions of dollars from the Canadian government to promote development and other projects in several countries.

Mr Trudeau apologised for the ethics violations, telling reporters "I'm sorry" for the "mistake". He said he believed the trips would not pose any problems because of an exception in the Act that allows lawmakers to accept gifts from friends.

"I've always considered the Aga Khan a close family friend, which is why I didn't clear this family trip in the first place," he said.

Meanwhile, French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe has defended his decision to charter a private plane for €350,000 (S$559,000) totake him and a delegation back from Tokyo earlier this month.

Mr Philippe's office had hired an Airbus A-340 with first-class seats to fly from Japan to Paris on Dec 6 instead of using an A-340 army transport plane flying the same route at roughly the same time.

It argued that Mr Philippe needed to be back in Paris urgently because President Emmanuel Macron was leaving the country.

Asked if it had been a mistake, Mr Philippe on Wednesday replied: "I take responsibility for this decision completely.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 22, 2017, with the headline 'Trudeau's vacation broke ethics rules'. Print Edition | Subscribe