New federal ethics commissioner Mario Dion is sending a clear message to MPs that they must stop telling the media when they file complaints with his office.
In a pair of rulings on Thursday, Mr. Dion said NDP MP Charlie Angus violated a provision of the conflict-of-interest code for MPs when he spoke publicly about investigation requests that he filed against two other MPs.
It is the first time the commissioner’s office has enforced that section of the code, which was added by MPs in 2015. The section says an MP is prevented from making public comments about a complaint until the commissioner confirms that the accused has received a copy or until 14 days have passed.
The change was made at the suggestion of former ethics commissioner Mary Dawson, who had argued it wasn’t fair that MPs first hear about a complaint against them through the media.
“Because Mr. Angus had apologized, I did not recommend the imposition of any sanctions,” Mr. Dion wrote in one of his reports.
The rulings reflect the views Mr. Dion first expressed to MPs in February, when he told a committee that public comments from MPs about filing complaints “pollutes the environment.” He also mused about the possibility of preventing the media from reporting on investigation requests.
“You could actually prohibit the media from broadcasting. It may be legal. It may not be constitutional. It has to be looked at, basically,” he told MPs in February.
Mr. Angus had announced in March that he was asking the commissioner to investigate whether Liberal MP Raj Grewal violated the conflict-of-interest code for bringing a business associate with him earlier this year as part of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s delegation to India.
Mr. Angus also confirmed in March that he had asked the commissioner’s office to look into Liberal cabinet minister Seamus O’Regan for not disclosing a 2016 trip to the Aga Khan’s private island in the Bahamas.
Thursday’s reports do not comment on the substance of the accusations made in relation to Mr. Grewal and Mr. O’Regan.
In a statement, Mr. Angus said he accepts the commissioner’s decision.
“This is the first time that the commissioner has chosen to enforce this provision of the conflict-of-interest code. It is the commissioner’s prerogative to enforce the code as he sees fit and I respect his decision to do so,” Mr. Angus said. “In the future, I will abide by the rule about public comment regarding ethics and conflict-of-interest investigations.”
Duff Conacher, co-founder of Democracy Watch, said the 2015 change was a “silly” rule aimed at protecting MPs from embarrassment.
“The MPs are trying to keep it all behind closed doors and quiet as opposed to transparent and out in the open,” he said. “It’s just ludicrous to try and do this.”