The Aga Khan was in Ottawa Tuesday for the grand opening of the Global Centre for Pluralism, a think tank founded by the billionaire Ismaili Muslim leader with $30-million in federal-government support.
However, the Aga Khan's long-time family friend, Justin Trudeau, was nowhere to be seen at the event. The Prime Minister's absence comes amidst an investigation into his family's vacation to the Aga Khan's private island last Christmas.
A source familiar with the matter said the Prime Minister was invited to the event. But according to a PMO spokesperson, Mr. Trudeau was attending a cabinet meeting on Parliament Hill at that time, about one kilometre from the centre.
The Aga Khan was not available to answer reporters' questions Tuesday, according to staff organizing the event. Asked why Mr. Trudeau was not in attendance, Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly, who represented the Liberal government at the centre's opening, refused to directly answer reporters' questions.
"We were happy as a government to be here along with the Governor-General and of course His Highness, the Aga Khan," Ms. Joly said. "This centre is extremely important for our government."
Mr. Trudeau's Open and Accountable Government rules prohibit ministers and parliamentary secretaries from accepting sponsored travel without approval of the ethics commissioner.
He came under fire from both the Conservatives and NDP for the ethics controversy again in Question Period on Tuesday. In what was likely to be her last question in the House of Commons to the Prime Minister, outgoing interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose demanded Mr. Trudeau reveal whether he has met with the ethics commissioner to discuss the vacation.
"This is likely my last question for the Prime Minister, so I am going to make him an offer. I will call off the attack dogs and nobody on this side will ask the question 18 more times. I think that sounds like a pretty fair deal. Let us end this with a real answer," Ms. Ambrose said.
Responding to question, Mr. Trudeau said Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson has asked him not to discuss the process.
Ms. Dawson, whose term ends on July 8, is currently investigating Mr. Trudeau for a possible breach of the Conflict of Interest Act for not seeking her approval before he took the Aga Khan's private helicopter from Nassau to Bell Island.
Mr. Trudeau has admitted he did not seek Ms. Dawson's approval, saying that he does not believe he did anything unethical as the only way to get to the island was to use the Aga Khan's personal helicopter.
On Monday, Mr. Trudeau recused himself from making a decision on Ms. Dawson's replacement, given the ongoing investigation into his family's vacation. Government House Leader Bardish Chagger will be responsible for naming a replacement for Ms. Dawson.
The centre is also distancing itself from Mr. Trudeau's vacation controversy.
"This is not a matter for the Global Centre for Pluralism," said John McNee, secretary-general of the Global Centre for Pluralism.
Mr. McNee said the centre is thrilled to officially move into its new office at 330 Sussex Dr. The federal heritage building, located beside the Royal Canadian Mint, used to be home to the Dominion Archives of Canada and the Canadian War Museum. It recently underwent a massive $35-million restoration, and now houses the centre in one wing and some Mint offices in the other.
The centre, which began operating in 2011, was housed at the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat, another Aga Khan building on Sussex, until renovations were completed this year.
Mr. McNee said the new building will allow the centre to establish itself in its own space. It will publish 25 analytical papers this year examining the state of pluralism around the world, including in Bolivia, Singapore and India. Mr. McNee said there will also be a $50,000 Global Pluralism Award for an international advocate or organization working to promote diverse, inclusive societies around the world.
"His Highness and our board see the Global Centre as a permanent institution because it deals with problems of human society that are never fixed," Mr. McNee said.
Former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, who sits on the centre's board, emphasized the importance of the centre's work amidst the rise of populism and anti-immigrant sentiments around the world, including in the United States.
"What is happening in Canada and the Global Centre is extremely important because people are resisting migration and hopefully they are more sensitive to refugees. Migration will not stop. It will continue. What is important is for us to find a way of managing migration."