Trudeau’s Aga Khan vacation, get ready for Duffy part 2
It could be a House of Cards political thriller: A high-ranking elected official and his family are wined and dined by a rich and powerful foreign agent who does business with the government. The official and his family are whisked away in a private aircraft to a luxurious private island for lavish vacations. All of this was, of course, done in secret with only whispers about its impropriety until a crack reporter breaks the story wide open.
But that plot is too eye-rolling and on the nose to ever make it off the writers’ room floor, except that it all really happened. We are, of course, talking about Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada and the Aga Khan.
On Dec. 20, 2017, the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner released The Trudeau Report, finding that the prime minister had breached multiple sections of the Conflict of Interest Act. It was lamented by some that the toothless legislation allows Trudeau to escape without any consequences. Although it is true that Trudeau’s offences may go unpunished by the ethics commissioner, there may still be consequences — and as first raised by law professor Peter Sankoff, it may be wise for Trudeau hire a criminal lawyer.
The bottom line is that a government official simply can’t take personal benefits from people who do business with the government. That’s a crime. Yes, get ready for Mike Duffy, Part II. Only this time, the case against Trudeau seems like it may be stronger than it was against the ’Ol Duff.
Let’s take a step back and look at the black-letter law. Section 121(1)(c) of the Criminal Code makes it a crime for any official of the government to directly or indirectly accept an advantage or benefit of any kind from a person who has dealings with the government.
Duffy was charged under this section for accepting the now-infamous $90,000 cheque from Nigel Wright to repay his dubious housing claims. But at Duffy’s trial, the court found that Wright, as Steven Harper’s chief of staff, did not have true business dealings with the government and that the real benefit (avoiding political embarrassment) flowed not to Duffy but to the Prime Minister’s Office and the Conservative Party. Duffy was found not guilty of the charge.
The Duffy affair was a convoluted mess of backroom deals and political tactics, which made the investigation and prosecution difficult. Unfortunately for Trudeau, his potential offence is much more straightforward and the ethics commissioner’s report could lay out a road map for the RCMP and prosecutors.