The Senate Ethics and Conflict of Interest Committee is recommending Conservative Senator Victor Oh be censured for violating the Red Chamber’s conflict-of-interest and ethics code by accepting an all-expenses paid trip to China for himself and two other senators
Senate Ethics Officer Pierre Legault released a report in February that found Mr. Oh had breached the conflict of interest rules for the free travel to China in 2017, accompanied by fellow Conservative Senators Don Plett and Leo Housakos. In that report, Mr. Legault harshly criticized Mr. Oh for providing incomplete testimony and withholding information, saying his conduct “raises questions about his integrity.”
The Ethics Officer’s report was referred to the committee, which tabled its recommendations Thursday on how to respond to the ethical breach.
The committee agreed with the findings and said Mr. Oh should be censured for his behaviour, and asked him to apologize to the Senate.
Censure in Parliament is a form of severe disapproval for the ethical actions of a parliamentarian. The committee did not recommend further sanctions, but urged Mr. Oh to formally apologize to his colleagues.
“Your committee nonetheless invites Senator Oh to express his apologies to the Senate for his actions, including his conduct during the Senate Ethics Officer’s inquiry,” the committee said.
Mr. Oh did not respond to requests for comment.
Senator Murray Sinclair, chair of the committee, said he expected a motion to adopt the ethics report to be read out in the chamber as early Monday or Tuesday next week.
He said Mr. Oh will have five sitting days to respond or speak to the motion, which includes the recommended censure. If he responds, there can be a vote immediately on the motion. If Mr. Oh doesn’t respond, the motion can be adopted after five sitting days.
Asked why the committee didn’t recommend anything more than censuring the senator, Mr. Sinclair said he’s “pretty convinced” the Senate does not have the ability to fine a senator, although, he acknowledged, the chamber could suspend a senator.
“We felt that the best process was to censure him – not necessarily because of his travel but because of his attempt to mislead the Senate Ethics Officer,” he said.
Mr. Sinclair said if there is no apology the Senate could always direct Mr. Oh to apologize. “If the chamber decides they want a letter of apology they can vote to demand a letter of apology.”
Mr. Legault launched the inquiry in December, 2017, after The Globe and Mail reported Mr. Oh, Mr. Plett and Mr. Housakos went on a two-week trip to Beijing and the southeastern Chinese province of Fujian in April, 2017, without disclosing it as either sponsored travel or a gift, as required under the rules.
The three senators had traveled to China at the invitation of a Beijing-based wealth management firm, Pantheon Asset Management Ltd.
Mr. Oh later told The Globe and the Office of the Senate Ethics Officer that he did not believe the senators had to declare the trip because his family picked up the tab for airline tickets, hotels, meals and transportation.
Mr. Legault said he found Mr. Oh breached Section 17(1) of the Senate ethics code by accepting benefits that are prohibited, namely tens of thousands of dollars from his sister to cover the trip, as well as a dinner from Xiamen Airlines and two dinners from Pantheon, which was exploring the opening of a Vancouver office.
The Senate ethics watchdog remarked several times on the difficulty the office had in getting complete information.
“Senator Oh’s conduct in deliberately withholding information in this inquiry is the type of conduct that did not uphold the highest standards of dignity inherent to the position of senator and that would undermine public confidence in the office of [a] senator and in the Senate as a whole,” Mr. Legault said.
Mr. Legault said Mr. Oh at first claimed the trip was a “purely personal sightseeing trip to pay tribute to his ancestral village” even though he was born in Singapore. On other occasions, such as official correspondence with Global Affairs Canada and overseas officials, Mr. Oh described the trip as a trade delegation of business and community leaders from Canada.
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