Ottawa, May 13, 2021
Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion today released the Trudeau III Report, which examined allegations of conflict of interest by the Right Honourable Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, when he participated in the decisions on whether to award funding for the WE organization's Social Entrepreneurship program and select WE as the administrator of the Canada Student Service Grant (CSSG) in the spring of 2020. Mr. Trudeau, his spouse, his mother and his brother have been involved in WE's activities for several years.
Having reviewed more than 40,000 pages of documents from the Honourable Bill Morneau, Mr. Trudeau, and 13 witnesses, it was made clear during the examination process that the federal public service was grappling with how to properly and rapidly align a volunteer and grant-based student program amidst the uncertainty of the evolving COVID-19 pandemic. In his report Commissioner Dion finds that there was no conflict of interest on the part of Mr. Trudeau in making the two decisions pertaining to funding and WE.
In coming to this conclusion, Commissioner Dion analyzed various relevant parts of the Conflict of Interest Act (Act) as concerns about conflicts and preferential treatment were almost immediately brought to his attention by Mr. Michael Barrett, Member of Parliament for Leeds–Grenville–Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes and Mr. Charlie Angus, Member of Parliament for Timmins–James Bay, shortly after the program was announced.
More specifically, the Members expressed concerns focused on Mr. Trudeau's decision making involving WE, an international development charity and youth empowerment movement founded by Messrs. Marc and Craig Kielburger, to administer the CSSG instead of the public service because of the relationship between WE, Mr. Trudeau, and his relatives.
The Act requires under subsection 44(1) that the Commissioner examine matters brought to his attention by parliamentarians when there are reasonable grounds to believe a possible contravention may have taken place. As such, Commissioner Dion commenced an examination on July 3, 2020, and undertook to examine possible contraventions of subsection 6(1) and sections 7 and 21 of the Act.
In the report findings, Commissioner Dion considered interactions between Mr. Trudeau and WE. He further studied circumstances requiring an individual to recuse themselves. Although the connection between Mr. Trudeau's relatives and WE created the appearance of a conflict of interest, the appearance of conflict is insufficient to cause a contravention of the Act's substantive rules. The duty to recuse is only required when the public office holder would be in a potential conflict of interest.
Quotes from Commissioner Dion
“In spite of difficulties caused by the pandemic at the national and international levels, I am pleased that our Office was still able to complete this examination within a reasonable period of time. This was made possible because of the responsiveness to my requests from both the Prime Minister's Office and government officials, and our own internal resources' dedicated attention to this report as a key priority. Continuous efforts were made by all to ensure that this examination was completed despite the extraordinary circumstances brought about by the pandemic."
"The decision taken in the Trudeau III Report considered an appearance of conflict versus a potential or real conflict of interest, as well as the requirement of public office holders to recuse themselves from certain decisions. The appearance of a conflict of interest does not constitute a contravention of the Act; the conflict must be real. Support for this conclusion is found in several sources in the report, including the Harper Government's position during the 2006 adoption of the Federal Accountability Act."
“During the examination, I determined there was no friendship between Mr. Trudeau and the Kielburgers, nor was Mr. Trudeau involved in any discussions with them leading to the decisions."
Section 4 of the Act states that a public office holder is in a conflict of interest when they exercise an official power, duty or function that provides an opportunity to further their private interests or those of their relatives or friends or to improperly further another person's private interests.
Subsection 6(1) prohibits public office holders from making any decision or participating in the making of a decision when they know or reasonably should know that such a decision would further their private interests, those of their relatives or friends, or improperly further the private interests of another person.
Section 7 prohibits public office holders from giving preferential treatment to a person or organization based on the identity of a representative.
Section 21 requires public office holders to recuse themselves from any discussion, decision, debate or vote on any matter in respect of which they would be in a conflict of interest.
Subsection 44(1) requires the Commissioner to examine a matter brought in writing by a parliamentarian that presents reasonable grounds to believe a public office holder, or former public office holder, has contravened the Act.
General information about examinations under the Act, including how the Commissioner deals with investigation requests.
The Conflict of Interest Act applies to all public office holders. Public officer holders are in a conflict of interest when they exercise an official power, duty or function that provides an opportunity to further their private interests or those of their relatives or friends, or to improperly further another person's private interests.
The Prime Minister's guidelines on open and accountable government state public office holders must perform their official duties and functions “in a manner that will bear the closest public scrutiny. This obligation is not fully discharged merely by acting within the law."
The Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner was created under the Federal Accountability Act. The Commissioner applies the Conflict of Interest Act for public office holders and the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons.
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