Trudeau and his family vacationed on the island from December 26, 2016 to January 4, 2017, and accepted two previous trips to the island in December 2014 and March 2016.
The 49th hereditary spiritual leader of Shia Ismaili Muslims, His Highness the Aga Khan is the founder of the global Aga Khan Development Network, the Aga Khan Foundation Canada, and the Global Centre for Pluralism. In May 2010, under the Harper government, he became the fifth person to be granted honorary Canadian Citizenship, and also addressed the Canadian Parliament in February 2014.
According to the commissioner, he has a long-standing relationship with the Government of Canada, which has contributed nearly $330 million to Foundation projects since 1981.
Therefore, the vacations in the Bahamas were gifts under the conflict of interest regimes that Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson administers.
“When Mr. Trudeau, as Prime Minister, accepted the gifts of hospitality from the Aga Khan and the use of his private island in March and December 2016, there were ongoing official dealings with the Aga Khan, and the Aga Khan Foundation Canada was registered to lobby his office.
“Therefore, the vacations accepted by Mr. Trudeau or his family could reasonably be seen to have been given to influence Mr. Trudeau in his capacity as Prime Minister,” she said.
There is an exception in the Conflict of Interest Act for gifts or other advantages from relatives and friends, but the Commissioner said this did not apply in this case.
Dawson ruled that Trudeau and the Aga Khan “cannot be characterized as friends within the meaning of the Act” and so did not merit exemption.
In her report, she states that Trudeau “had no personal or private interactions with the Aga Khan and his family between 1983 and April 2013, except for his father’s funeral in 2000, at which the Aga Khan was a pallbearer.
Reacting to the ruling on Wednesday, Trudeau said he respected the commissioner’s opinion, but did not agree with her findings on their friendship.
“I have always considered the Aga Khan to be a close family friend, which is why I didn’t clear this trip in the first place,” said Trudeau.
“For me it was an opportunity to visit a friend, have some family time.”
Trudeau said he had spoken to the Aga Khan at his father’s funeral and “a number of times” since he became an MP.
Regardless of the commissioner’s opinion of what constitutes a friend, Trudeau said he fully accepted her report.
“It’s important as we move forward that we learn from this mistake… I take full responsibility for this,” said Trudeau.
“I should have checked this in advance and in the future I certainly intend to do that… In the future, I will be clearing all my family vacations with the commissioner’s office.”
There will be no punishment for the violations of the Act. As well, Dawson cleared Trudeau of violating the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons.
Trudeau also said that he would have done things differently if he had his time over again.
“If I had to do things over, I would have done things differently and I would have spoken to the commissioner right from the outset,” said Trudeau.
“If she had told me not to do it, I would not have done it.”