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Politics Court of Appeal pauses investigation into Trudeau’s vacation with Aga Khan

The Federal Court of Appeal has paused the Lobbying Commissioner’s investigation into Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s vacation with the Aga Khan, a billionaire philanthropist.

In April, the Federal Court ordered Nancy Bélanger, the Commissioner of Lobbying, to reconsider the decision not to investigate a complaint into Mr. Trudeau’s trip. The ruling expanded those who must register as lobbyists under the Lobbying Act to include board members of foundations, such as Aga Khan Foundation Canada.

The appeal court’s decision to stay the investigation means the commissioner will not have to probe whether the Lobbying Act was breached until a final ruling is made on the appeal case.

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Mr. Trudeau travelled to the Aga Khan’s private island in the Bahamas in January of 2017, amidst discussions of funding projects between the Aga Khan and Mr. Trudeau’s government. In December of that year, then-conflict of interest and ethics commissioner Mary Dawson said the trip violated ethics rules. The lobbyist commissioner at the time, Karen Shepherd, chose not to ­investigate, saying the case did not fall under the scope of the Lobbying Act because the Aga Khan was not paid to lobby.

Duff Conacher, co-founder of Democracy Watch – the organization that challenged the commissioner’s ruling that Mr. Trudeau’s vacation was legal – said he didn’t oppose the motion to stay the court’s ruling because it requires hundred of organizations to disclose lobbying under in the Registry of Lobbyists.

Under the new ruling, any board members who are registered will be required to disclose their lobbying in the registry.

“Who knows how many hundreds of people that would be,” Mr. Conacher said.

If the court’s ruling to have the Lobbying Commissioner investigate the Aga Khan is overturned, Mr. Conacher said all these people would then deregister.

The Commissioner of Lobbying declined to comment on the case as the appeal is before the court, except to say that she will respect the decision issued by the court.

Democracy Watch also raised a complaint against Clearwater Seafoods, a registered lobbyist group, after a board member fundraised around $90,000 for the Liberal Party at an event that Mr. Trudeau attended. The organization is also seeking an investigation into Apotex Inc. after a former chairman hosted a fundraiser for the Liberal Party in 2015, alleging the organization is in contempt of the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct, which prohibits favours or gifts to politicians.

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The ruling in the Aga Khan case will set precedent for all of these complaints before the courts.

“Then we’ll have much more clarity as to what the lobbyist rules are and what the lobbyist commissioner’s investigative mandate is,” Mr. Conacher said, adding that he expects the hearing date to be in September or October.

He said the case has already been a “triple win,” in that it broadens the number of board members that have to register under the Lobbying Act, broadens the investigative scope of the commissioner, and requires an investigation into the senior officer at the Aga Khan Foundation to see whether he tried to stop the Aga Khan, the spiritual leader of the world’s Ismaili Muslims, from giving Mr. Trudeau gifts.

“It’s a waste of taxpayer money for the government to be appealing this ruling to try and protect Prime Minister Trudeau’s family friend, the Aga Khan, from accountability for unethical behaviour in lobbying,” Mr. Conacher said.

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