Canada’s interim ethics commissioner says Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Jamaican vacation did not violate any rules and confirmed Trudeau checked with him before accepting the gifted accommodation from his friend.
“He consulted us, and we advised him,” Konrad von Finckenstein told MPs on Tuesday, testifying before the House of Commons ethics committee regarding what the rules are in relation to gifts and trips.
Finkenstein told the committee that as far as his office was concerned, the matter has been dealt with and the case is closed.
“If it had not been an acceptable gift, it would have had to be reported on our website… nothing has been reported,” he said.
Gifts valued at $200,000 or more must be disclosed on a public registry within 30 days, according to the Conflict of Interest Act.
Exceptions are made for gifts that are received via family members or from friends.
While the exact location of Trudeau’s vacation was not disclosed, the National Post did report that he and his family stayed at a villa that costs several thousand dollars per night, which was privately owned by Peter Green, whom Trudeau describes as a friend.
The villa was part of a larger resort owned by Green’s family.
“Thirty days have passed since the prime minister disclosed that he went to Jamaica… you can draw your own conclusion as to what the advice was that I gave,” said von Finckenstein.
Conservative MP and ethics critic Michael Barrett claimed that Green’s offer was likely valued at more than $80,000 and substantial enough to qualify as an influential gift.
However, von Finckenstein pointed those concerns to the existing exemption for gifts accepted by family and friends.
“The prime minister has stated that Mr. Green is a friend of the family, has been a friend for over 50 years. He has stayed at Mr. Green’s property since he was a child,” said von Finckenstein.
“The prime minister has received gifts… more than once from this friend. He has spoken publicly of this friendship and has sought advice from my office, both during my tenure and during the tenure of my predecessor.”
Liberal MPs agreed to the Conservatives’ call for the ethics commissioner to appear, saying that it would allow for the Canadian public to be made aware of the ethics rules around what is permitted for Canadian MPs surrounding gifts and trips.
However, the Prime Minister’s Office had initially claimed that Trudeau’s family would pay for the Jamaican vacation themselves before later clarifying to the Canadian Press that Trudeau’s accommodations were “at no cost at a location owned by family friends.”
Additionally, the Prime Minister’s Office said the ethics commissioner was consulted “on these details prior to the travel to ensure that the rules were followed.”
Trudeau “continues to reimburse the equivalent of a commercial airline ticket for his personal travel and that of his family,” wrote the PMO at the time of the trip. However, the prime minister must travel on government aircraft for security purposes, a government policy established years ago.
Trudeau’s press secretary responded to comments Barrett made about Trudeau not being transparent over the vacation by saying that “any allegation that we would mislead the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner is categorically false,” in a statement to CTV News.
The Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner did confirm that the Prime Minister’s Office consulted with it regarding the prime minister’s vacation beforehand, stating that the office “does not approve or ‘clear’ regulatees’ vacations.”
However, the commissioner declined to provide the committee with any specific details, citing confidentiality requirements. Von Finckenstein did say, however, that office holders “always” take his office’s advice regarding what is acceptable, because an investigation would follow if they didn’t.
“We work to verify the true depths of a friendship asserted. If someone is a friend, they can offer a gift to a public officer in a personal context, and the gift does not need to be disclosed,” said von Finckenstein.