Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau’s role on the world stage has evolved into the “anti-Trump,” the young progressive nice guy acting as ideological counterpoint to the current White House occupant.
One of the most obvious differences between President Donald Trump and Trudeau is the latter’s willingness to show official contrition. Trudeau has apologized for his country’s treatment of indigenous children taken from their families and placed in government schools (“a dark and shameful chapter in our country’s history”). Trudeau has apologized for Canadian anti-LGBTQ policies (“it is our collective shame that you were so mistreated”).
And this week Trudeau apologized again — though the prime minister was not offering a world-historical mea culpa, but addressing a major misstep of his own.
On Wednesday Canada’s Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson released a report finding the prime minister had violated the country’s ethics code when Trudeau and his family vacationed with wealthy investor and philanthropist the Aga Khan – the honorary title of the Iman of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims – on his island home in the Bahamas in December and early January of 2016.
Then-Secretary of State John F. Kerry was also on the vacation, Trudeau’s office confirmed to the CBC. The commission also found Trudeau accepted another trip to the island in December 2014, and that his wife went in March 2016 with friends and their children, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reported this week.
“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,” Dawson said in the report.
“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.”
The Canadian government has put millions of dollars into projects supported by the Khan’s foundation since 1981, the report stated. Dawson criticized Trudeau for not recusing himself from meetings at which a $15 million grant to the Khan’s Global Centre for Pluralism was discussed.
This week, Trudeau was repeatedly asked about the trips in an awkward news conference where the normally polished prime minister stumbled to answer questions.
“With all due respect, you were going to take a free holiday from someone you consider a friend,” the CBC’s Rosemary Barton asked Trudeau. “You knew … that they were set up to lobby the government. How did it not occur to you that might not have been OK?”
“The fact is,” Trudeau answered. “We work . . . the . . . um . . . sorry let me just re-order the thoughts . . . we worked . . . with . . .”
The prime minister eventually explained that a trip with a personal friend was not deemed to be an issue.
The definition of “friend” is key to the ethics complaint and Trudeau’s explanation.
Under Canadian law, there’s an exception for gifts or “other advantages” given to a politician by a friend or relative. Trudeau maintained he had a friendship with the Aga Khan. But in her report, Canada’s ethics commissioner said the evidence did not support a long-standing relationship between the two. The commission found that Trudeau had no interactions with the Khan between 1983 and 2013, the CDC reported.
“The evidence shows that the recent private interactions began after Mr. Trudeau became Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada in 2013,” the ethics report released this week said.
Trudeau’s father, former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, had a friendship with the Aga Khan, according to the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.
Trudeau did apologize on Wednesday about the controversy. “I’m sorry,” he said. “And in the future I will be clearing all my family vacations with the commissioner.”
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