Sen. Oh breached Senate ethics code repeatedly with expenses-paid China trip

OTTAWA — The Senate’s ethics officer says Conservative Sen. Victor Oh breached the upper house’s ethics code four times when he accepted an all-expenses paid trip to China in 2017.

Moreover, Pierre Legault says Oh withheld information and deliberately misled the investigation into the trip, raising questions about his integrity.

At issue is a delegation Oh led on a visit to Beijing and Fujian province in April 2017; the delegation included Chinese-Canadian community leaders, as well as two fellow Conservative senators, Leo Housakos and Don Plett.

Oh told Legault the trip was “a personal sightseeing journey” to his ancestral home, paid for by his sister.

But in a report tabled in the Senate, Legault says evidence shows Oh touted the trip to others as a trade delegation and that he blurred the line between his private and public affairs throughout the visit.

He concludes that Oh violated the ethics code — which prohibits accepting any gift or benefit related to a senator’s position — by allowing his sister to pay for a trip that included a substantial official component.

Oh similarly violated the code again during the trip by attending a banquet hosted by Xiamen Airlines, which was considering the possibility of offering a direct flight to Toronto, Legault found. And he did it again by attending two dinners hosted by Pantheon Asset Ltd., which included discussion about Pantheon opening an office in Vancouver.

As well, Legault says Oh failed to uphold the principle spelled out in the code that senators must maintain a clear separation between their public roles as senators and their personal, private affairs.

Legault slams Oh’s conduct throughout the investigation into the trip, accusing him of deliberately misleading the ethics officer on a number of matters, including giving him a version of the list of members of the delegation that didn’t mention their business connections.

“His conduct also raises questions about his integrity,” Legault says in the report.

“In my view, Sen. Oh’s conduct in deliberately withholding information in this inquiry is the type of conduct that did not uphold the highest standards of dignity inherent to the position of senator and that would undermine public confidence in the office of senator and in the Senate as a whole.”

Legault largely exonerates two other senators involved in the trip, Conservatives Leo Housakos and Don Plett. Oh told them he was taking care of the cost of the trip, which the two senators assumed meant it was a “routine form of sponsored travel” paid for by a Chinese-Canadian community organization. Legault says “their misunderstanding was not unreasonable.”

However, he reminds all senators that they have an obligation under the code to exercise due diligence, including knowing who is paying for their travel.

The Senate’s ethics committee must now consider Legault’s report and decide whether to impose any sanctions or penalties.

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