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Dominic Barton, Canada's ambassador to China, said his chief of staff in Beijing and the deputy minister of foreign affairs would administer the conflict of interest screen to make sure he abides by his ethical commitments.Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

Canada’s ambassador to China has set up an ethical shield by putting his investments in a blind trust to avoid conflicts of interest while serving in Beijing.

Dominic Barton worked out the arrangement with Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion in December, and details were recently published on the website of the Office of Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner.

Before becoming ambassador, Mr. Barton ran McKinsey & Co., one of the world’s largest consulting firms, as it built up a substantial presence in China. He is also married to Geraldine Buckingham, a senior managing director at BlackRock Inc. and head of the global investment corporation’s Asian division.

“The Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner and I have agreed that a conflict of interest screen is an appropriate compliance measure for me, aimed at preventing any opportunity, while I exercise official powers, duties and functions as a reporting public holder, to further my private interests or those of my spouse, Ms. Geraldine Buckingham,” Mr. Barton said in a statement posted on the website.

He said he and has wife have financial interests in McKinsey, Teck Resources Ltd. and BlackRock.

“Accordingly, I have agreed to abstain from any discussions, decisions, debate or vote in relation to the organizations,” he said. “I have also agreed not to have any communication with government officials in relation to any matter or decision-making process involving my or my spouse’s interest.”

Mr. Barton said his chief of staff in Beijing and the deputy minister of foreign affairs would administer the conflict of interest screen to make sure he abides by his ethical commitments.

Upon his appointment, Mr. Barton resigned as chair of Teck Resources, a Vancouver-based metals and mining giant partly owned by China Investment Corp., a state company. A member of Teck’s board of directors once sat in China’s National People’s Congress.

The Conflict of Interest and Ethics Act requires public-office holders such as Mr. Barton to report their assets, liabilities, income, past activities and any other relevant information to the commissioner.

Mr. Barton placed investments in six funds, including L.P. Roha Fund and Atlas Investors, in a blind trust on Dec. 18.

In a blind trust, a trustee manages the assets for the public-office holder, ostensibly insulating them from accusations that they are making decisions that could benefit their personal wealth.

But Duff Conacher, co-founder of watchdog group Democracy Watch, says blind trusts don’t work.

“Blind trusts are a sham because the person knows what they put in the trust and chooses the trustee and can give the trustee instructions,” he said.

Mr. Conacher says the only way to resolve conflicts is for public-office holders to divest their holdings.

Questions were raised about Mr. Barton’s connections to China through his long association with McKinsey, which is a high-priced adviser to many Chinese companies; according to The New York Times, this includes as many as 22 of the country’s 100 largest state-owned enterprises.

MIO Partners Inc., McKinsey’s multibillion-dollar investment fund, also has many Chinese-related investments. MIO manages retirement and after-tax funds for about 30,000 current and former employees of the firm.

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