Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, second left, reacts as the microphone stops working during a press availability held at a hotel in Beijing, China, Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Ethics watchdog says Trudeau vacation on private island broke conflict rules

Federal ethics commissioner Mary Dawson has concluded that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau violated conflict of interest rules when he vacationed last Christmas at the private Bahamian island owned by the Aga Khan.

Dawson says in a report today that Trudeau’s vacation last year, and two other family vacations not previously made public, broke conflict of interest law that prohibits a minister or any member of their family from accepting gifts or “advantages” that could reasonably be seen as influencing government decisions.

The only exception is if the person providing the gift is a friend, but Dawson says that exception didn’t apply in this case because Trudeau and the Aga Khan’s friendship only blossomed after the prime minister became Liberal leader.

Before that, the two hadn’t spoken for 30 years.

Dawson says the Aga Khan, spiritual leader of the world’s Ismaili Muslims, and his foundation were registered to lobby Trudeau’s office in December 2016, meaning the vacation “could reasonably be seen to have been given to influence Mr. Trudeau in his capacity as Prime Minister.”

Dawson also concludes that Trudeau broke the ethics code when he travelled on the Aga Khan’s private helicopter.

Moreover, she says Trudeau didn’t properly recuse himself on two occasions in May 2016 from private meetings about the Aga Khan and a $15-million grant to the billionaire philanthropist’s endowment fund of the Global Centre for Pluralism.

Speaking to reporters, Trudeau apologized for not going to Dawson before the vacation to get her clearance — something Dawson hinted she may have given.

Trudeau said he didn’t believe the vacation would be an ethical concern because he still considers the Aga Khan a friend, disagreeing with Dawson’s conclusions on that score.

In future, he said he plans to ask the ethics commissioner to clear all his family vacations.

“This is an important issue. We have a system in place to protect the integrity of the (prime minister’s) office,” he said.

“It is important that as we move forward, we learn from this mistake. I take full responsibility for it.”

Dawson’s long-awaited report chides the prime minister for not coming to her office before travelling to the Aga Khan’s island last year, and notes that Trudeau also didn’t follow his own ethics rules for cabinet ministers.

Trudeau’s position had been that he didn’t violate any ethics rules because of the long-running family connection to the Aga Khan, which began in the 1960s when Pierre Trudeau was prime minister.

But Dawson notes that between 1983 and 2013, the younger Trudeau and the Aga Khan only interacted once at the elder Trudeau’s funeral.

The prime minister told Dawson that it wasn’t until he was Liberal leader and then prime minister that he felt he could have a closer relationship with the Aga Khan, similar to the one his father had.

Dawson calls this admirable, but says that a prime minister “must unfortunately put on hold his pursuits of friendships with individuals with whom he is likely to have official dealings.”

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