Ethics watchdog probes Canadian PM's lavish vacation

Canada's ethics commissioner has opened a probe of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau over his lavish post-Christmas vacation at the private island of billionaire philanthropist and spiritual leader the Aga Khan.

In a letter to an opposition Conservative member of Parliament shown to AFP on Monday, Commissioner Mary Dawson said she was investigating whether Trudeau breached ethics laws in receiving a free Bahamas vacation and in using the Aga Khan's helicopter to fly to his private island.

Trudeau and his family, as well as a Liberal MP and the president of the party and their spouses, stayed at the Aga Khan's home on Bell Island in the Bahamas for a post-Christmas vacation.

The Aga Khan's foundation has received hundreds of millions of dollars from the Canadian government to promote development and other projects in several countries. It is registered as a lobbyist.

Canadian conflict of interest laws prohibit officeholders from accepting gifts. Free travel is specifically listed as prohibited for ministers.

Trudeau last week addressed the controversy after the opposition complained to Dawson, saying, "This was a personal family vacation."

The Aga Khan is a longtime friend of the Trudeau family, he added.

On a cross-Canada tour to bolster support for his leadership and his Liberal Party, Trudeau told reporters Monday, "I've heard from a number of people across the country that they're concerned about this, and that's why I take this very seriously." He said he would happily respond to questions from the ethics commissioner and others.

No Canadian prime minister has ever been found in breach of a federal statute, and even if Trudeau is found guilty of such a breach, the sanctions would be effectively a slap on the wrist.

The political fallout, however, is likely to be much worse for Trudeau, who rose to power in 2015 on a platform of openness and ethical conduct.

© Provided by AFP Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, pictured with his wife Sophie in 2016, and his family, as well as a Liberal MP and the president of the party and their spouses, stayed at the Aga Khan's home on Bell Island in the Bahamas

Justin Trudeau's vacation with Aga Khan under investigation

Canada's Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, is under investigation over a holiday he took on the private island of billionaire philanthropist and spiritual leader Aga Khan.

Mr Trudeau and his family were guests at the Aga Khan's home in the Bahamas at the new year.

The federal ethics commissioner must now determine if the visit violated conflict of interest rules.

Mr Trudeau has said he is "more than happy" to answer any questions.

After a preliminary inquiry last week, Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson said she would formally investigate whether Mr Trudeau had breached ethics laws.

When news of his winter getaway was made public, Mr Trudeau went on the record about the vacation.

He has also admitted to using the private helicopter of the Aga Khan.

Questions about the vacation have followed the prime minister, who is on a cross-country "listening" tour, hosting town halls and stopping into coffee shops to meet with Canadians.

On Tuesday, he said he is working with the ethics commissioner on the investigation and that his staff is setting up a meeting with her office to answer questions about the Bahamas trip.

Pallbearer at father's funeral
Mr Trudeau has said that the stay over the new year was a "personal family vacation".

He was accompanied on the trip by Liberal MP Seamus O'Reagan and Liberal Party President Anna Gainey, and their respective partners.

Prince Karim Aga Khan is a close family friend of the Trudeaus and was an honorary pallbearer at the funeral of Mr Trudeau's father, Pierre.

The Aga Khan Foundation has received hundreds of millions from the federal government over the past several decades, from both the Liberal and Conservative parties.

Canadian conflict of interest laws prohibit ministers from accepting gifts, including free travel.

If the commissioner finds Mr Trudeau broke the rules, he faces a fine of up to C$500 (US$380/£315) per penalty.

No Canadian prime minister has yet been found in breach of a federal statute. But the fallout could hurt Mr Trudeau, who became popular with the voting public because of his accessible style, analysts say.

Who is the Aga Khan?
Prince Karim Aga Khan is the 49th hereditary Imam of the Ismaili Muslims. They trace his lineage directly to the Prophet Muhammad.

He his Swiss-born, lives in France, has a British passport, graduated from Harvard University and is among the top 15 of the world's wealthiest royals, according to Forbes magazine.

They say he has an estimated wealth of $1bn (£640m) in 2008.

Justin Trudeau’s Family Vacation on Aga Khan’s Island Leads to Ethics Inquiry

Canada’s federal conflict-of-interest and ethics office confirmed on Monday that it is investigating the propriety of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his family’s spending part of the Christmas holidays as guests of the Aga Khan, the billionaire philanthropist and spiritual leader of Ismaili Muslims, on a private island in the Bahamas.

Jocelyne Brisebois, a spokeswoman for the ethics commissioner, Mary Dawson, said in an email that an inquiry is being conducted under Canada’s conflict-of-interest act but offered no details about its scope or timing.

Ms. Dawson said earlier that she would speak to Mr. Trudeau about separate allegations that he had broken conflict-of-interest laws by attending Liberal Party fund-raising events, where small numbers of people met the prime minister after making donations of 1,500 Canadian dollars apiece, or about $1,100.

The two inquires threaten to tarnish the image of Mr. Trudeau, who has long promised to conduct politics in a transparent manner. The penalty of any finding against Mr. Trudeau, however, would be mostly political. Violations of these conflict-of-interest laws are not crimes and bring comparatively small fines in the worst cases.

Citing remarks made by Mr. Trudeau on Friday, Cameron Ahmad, his press secretary, wrote in an email that “we are happy to engage with the commissioner and answer any questions she may have.”

The latest inquiry appears to have been the result of complaints to Ms. Dawson by two Conservative opposition members of Parliament.

In a letter to Blaine Calkins, one of the complainants, Ms. Dawson said she was looking into possible violations of rules barring cabinet ministers from accepting free transportation. Mr. Trudeau and his family traveled to the Aga Khan’s island from Nassau on his private helicopter.

According to the letter, the commissioner will also review whether the vacation itself broke the rules because the Aga Khan and his charities have dealings with the government.

The government of Canada over decades has donated millions of dollars to foreign aid programs run by charities led by the Aga Khan. The previous Conservative government agreed to match a donation of 30 million Canadian dollars from the Aga Khan to establish a Global Center for Pluralism in Ottawa.

The Aga Khan has established several institutions in Canada without the government’s help, including a museum of Muslim art in Toronto.

The Aga Khan was a friend of Mr. Trudeau’s father, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, a former prime minister.

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