Pharmaceutical giant Apotex Inc. and its chairman, Barry Sherman, are asking a court to shut down the federal lobbying commissioner's investigation of a fundraising dinner held at Mr. Sherman's home in August of 2015 that featured Justin Trudeau as the guest of honour.
In an application filed in Federal Court, Mr. Sherman and Apotex, along with a current and former employee who have been asked to testify about the event, say the investigation launched by Karen Shepherd, the Commissioner of Lobbying, is unreasonable, unfair and is being pursued in bad faith.
It is not "being advanced for bona fide purposes under the Lobbying Act," the document says, but is merely "an unanchored fishing expedition."
The investigation follows two complaints lodged with Ms. Shepherd last year by Democracy Watch, a non-profit citizen advocacy group that lobbies for government accountability.
The first of those complaints, filed on Oct. 25, 2016, related to a fundraiser featuring Finance Minister Bill Morneau scheduled for Nov. 7, 2016, that was the subject of a story by The Globe and Mail. Mr. Sherman was selling tickets for $500 a piece.
On Nov. 4, 2015, Democracy Watch filed a complaint about a party Mr. Sherman hosted on Aug. 26, 2015, that was attended by Michael Levitt, who is now a Liberal MP, and by Mr. Trudeau, who was then leading the Liberal Party in an election campaign. The price of admission was $1,500.
At the time of the event in August, 2016, Mr. Sherman was registered as an in-house lobbyist for Apotex, a major pharmaceutical manufacturer in Canada. The registration lists the Prime Minister's Office as being among the federal government institutions the company intended to lobby.
The Lobbyists Code of Conduct states that lobbyists may not place public office holders in situations that create a conflict of interest.
"Barry Sherman is the chairman of the company and he does the fundraising event and Trudeau is there," Duff Conacher, a founder of Democracy Watch, said on Monday. "Even if the money is going to a Liberal MP, the conflict of interest is created."
The court document says that Desmond Challenger, an investigator with the lobbying commissioner's office, interviewed Mr. Sherman on Nov. 3. That was between the time Democracy Watch launched its complaint about the November, 2016, fundraiser and its complaint about the one in August, 2016.
After that interview, Phil McIntosh, the lobbying commissioner's director of investigations, recommended that two additional Apotex employees be interviewed regarding the August, 2015, event, the document says. When the company refused, Ms. Shepherd approved subpoenas directing that they appear to testify on May 9, 2017.
Apotex responded by saying the employees "will not be produced on May 9, 2017 for the requested examinations."
The company wants the court to quash Ms. Shepherd's investigation and to find that the subpoenas were unlawful and unconstitutional.
Apotex argues in its court filing that the Lobbying Commissioner's Office has not explained the precise basis for the investigation or provided the company with the information it obtained from other, unnamed witnesses. And it says it was unfair for Mr. Challenger to obtain information about the August, 2016, event during his interview with Mr. Sherman when his stated purpose was to obtain information about the Nov. 7 fundraiser, which was then imminent.
If the investigation is not quashed by the court, Apotex says it wants to be given all of that information along with a copy of the recording made during the investigator's interview with Mr. Sherman.
In a response filed with the court, the lobbying commissioner says those requests go well beyond standard disclosure and that Apotex is not entitled to obtain records created by Ms. Shepherd's subordinates.
Requests for comment that were put to Ms. Shepherd's office were rejected because the matter is before the court. Lawyers for Apotex did not return calls.
Mr. Conacher said the only penalty Mr. Sherman would face if he is found to have violated the lobbyists' code of conduct is that he would not be allowed to lobby the Prime Minister's Office until after August, 2020.