Ottawa, August 24, 2022
Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion today reported on a matter referred to him in April 2022 by the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner. The Scott Report has been released under section 68 of the Conflict of Interest Act (Act).
The report concerns an allegation of conflict of interest against Mr. Ian Scott, Chairperson of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). It deals with apparent conflicts of interest and the definition of friendship within the meaning of the Act.
It was alleged that Mr. Scott had several meetings with large telecommunication providers while they had files before the CRTC, thereby failing to avoid apparent conflicts of interest. However, apparent conflicts of interest are not captured by the prohibitions in the Act.
One of the meetings was with a senior BCE Inc. and Bell Canada executive who was described, in a media article, as a friend of Mr. Scott's. The week before, Bell Canada had asked the CRTC to review and vary an August 2019 Telecom Order. Mr. Scott was on the CRTC panel that issued a May 2021 Telecom Decision varying the order. Commissioner Dion was concerned that, by participating in that decision, Mr. Scott may have had an opportunity to further the private interests of a friend or to improperly further those of a corporation run by a friend. This would contravene subsection 6(1) of the Act, which prohibits a public office holder from making any decision or participating in the making of a decision that furthers their private interests or those of their relatives or friends, or that improperly furthers the private interests of another person.
After reviewing additional information obtained from Mr. Scott, along with information in the referral and in the public domain, Commissioner Dion was satisfied that Mr. Scott and the executive's relationship could not be considered one that falls within the definition of friendship within the meaning of the Act.
Having no reason to believe that the Act may have been contravened, Commissioner Dion did not launch an examination and considers the matter closed.
Quotes from Commissioner Dion
“The Conflict of Interest Act guards against public office holders using their positions to benefit their friends. For example, among other prohibitions, they are not allowed to make a decision or participate in making a decision that furthers a friend's private—largely financial—interests."
“Drawing on the interpretation of 'friend' set out in the Watson Report and broadened in the Morneau II Report, I was satisfied that Mr. Scott and the BCE Inc. and Bell Canada executive he met with privately were not friends within the meaning of the Act. Despite having worked in the same industry for 20 years, their relationship is exclusively professional."
“I note that the issue of whether Mr. Scott's meeting with the BCE Inc. and Bell Canada executive raises a reasonable apprehension of bias is before the Federal Court of Appeal. That case is separate from the referral the Office received from the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner."
Subsection 6(1) of the Act prohibits a public office holder from making any decision or participating in the making of a decision that furthers their private interests or those of their relatives or friends, or that improperly furthers the private interests of another person.
The exclusion of apparent conflicts of interest from the Conflict of Interest Act was established in the Trudeau III Report.
The interpretation of “friend" within the meaning of the Act was set out in the Watson Report and broadened in the Morneau II Report.
When a referral is made by the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner under subsection 24(2.1) of the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act, whether or not an investigation is launched, the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner is required to issue a report.
The Office previously reported on 13 referrals from the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner, including five that resulted in examinations. Those reports are available on the Office's website.
All reports under the Conflict of Interest Act are provided to the Prime Minister and made public.
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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