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Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard Dominic LeBlanc rises in the House of Commons during Question Period in Ottawa on June 11, 2018. Earlier this month, The Globe and Mail reported that four of the six judges appointed to the federal bench in New Brunswick in the past eight months have connections to the minister.Patrick Doyle/The Canadian Press

An advocacy group for government accountability is requesting an investigation into links between federal cabinet minister Dominic LeBlanc and recent judicial appointments.

Earlier this month, The Globe and Mail reported that four of the six judges appointed to the federal bench in New Brunswick in the past eight months have connections to the minister. Three judges named to superior courts in spring and winter made financial contributions of $400 each in 2009 to help pay down slightly more than $31,000 in debt incurred by Mr. LeBlanc in his unsuccessful run for the party leadership.

This followed a report that candidates for federally appointed courts have their names put through the Liberalist, a private party database that tracks party membership and participation in party activities.

In a letter to Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion, Democracy Watch, a citizens group advocating for government accountability, said an investigation is needed to determine whether Mr. LeBlanc participated in the appointment of any judges he had prior connections with.

Duff Conacher, co-founder of Democracy Watch, said Mr. LeBlanc is in a “real conflict of interest” because of monetary donations three judges gave to his riding association before they were appointed.

“It would be simply negligent for the Ethics Commissioner to ignore a case like this when you’re talking about judges and all the other evidence that’s there," he said.

Mr. Conacher said one of the appointees donated to Mr. LeBlanc’s riding association even while being outside the Beauséjour riding.

If Mr. LeBlanc did participate in the judicial appointments, Democracy Watch said the investigation should consider whether the minister appeared to be in a conflict of interest.

Mr. Conacher said the Conflict of Interest Act, the legislation that governs the ethical conduct of public officials, extends to situations involving an appearance of a conflict of interest. He added that former ethics commissioner Mary Dawson said the act covered appearances of conflicts of interest when the House reviewed the act in 2013.

Rachel Rappaport, press secretary for Justice Minister David Lametti – who appointed the three judges that donated to Mr. LeBlanc – said in an e-mailed statement that judicial appointments are based on merit. Ms. Rappaport said candidates are evaluated by independent judicial advisory committees who make recommendations to the minister. Only candidates reviewed by this committee can be considered at cabinet level, she said.

Ms. Rappaport also said candidates, like all Canadian citizens, are free to engage in political activities.

“The appointments process neither disqualifies nor privileges an applicant on the basis of political association,” she said.

Democracy Watch is also requesting that Mr. Dion recuse himself from the investigation because he was appointed by the Trudeau cabinet in a “secretive process” that lacked “consultation with opposition parties as required."

The group has already filed an application for judicial review of Mr. Dion’s appointment, which will be heard by the Federal Court of Appeal in the fall.

Jocelyne Brisebois, a spokesperson for Mr. Dion, said in an e-mailed statement that the Commissioner will not recuse himself from any matter based on a request by Democracy Watch.

“[Nor] will he respond publicly to comments made by that organization,” she said.

Mr. LeBlanc is currently on medical leave from his position as Minister of Intergovernmental and Northern Affairs and Internal Trade while undergoing cancer treatment.

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