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Canada Democracy Watch asks court to force Lobbying Commissioner to investigate Aga Khan

20:35  06 february  2018
20:35  06 february  2018 Source:   cbc.ca

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A house is pictured on Bell Island, the Bahamas.© CBC A house is pictured on Bell Island, the Bahamas.

Democracy Watch is calling on the Federal Court to overturn former lobbying commissioner Karen Shepherd's decision not to investigate the Aga Khan in connection with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's visit to his private island in the Bahamas.

The group is arguing that Shepherd erred in law when she ruled in September 2017 that the Aga Khan didn't violate the lobbying rules because he is not paid to lobby on behalf of the foundation that bears his name.

"Democracy Watch is challenging the Lobbying Commissioner's ruling in court, because it is legally incorrect, violates the spirit and purpose of the Lobbyists' Code of Conduct and opens up a huge loophole that big businesses and other organizations will exploit by having their unregistered board members or staff do favours for, and give gifts to, government officials they are lobbying as a way of unethically influencing their policy making decisions," Democracy Watch co-founder Duff Conacher said in a statement.

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Democracy Watch also alleges in court documents that there is "a reasonable apprehension of bias" on Shepherd's part, because her mandate was temporarily renewed by Trudeau's government.

Shepherd's decision not to investigate the Aga Khan was obtained by CBC News in December.

The Aga Khan, believed to be one of the wealthiest individuals in the world, is the spiritual leader of millions of Ismaili Muslims and is listed as a member of the board of directors of the Aga Khan Foundation Canada.

The foundation, which has received millions of dollars in federal government development aid over the years, is registered to lobby several federal government departments, including the prime minister's office.

Looking out from Bell Island in the Bahamas at night.© CBC Looking out from Bell Island in the Bahamas at night.

A search of the lobbyist registry shows the foundation has filed 132 reports since 2011 outlining its meetings with government decision makers. However, none of those reports list any meetings with Trudeau — despite the meetings the prime minister has had with the Aga Khan and his officials.

In December, Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson ruled Trudeau violated federal ethics rules when he accepted the vacation on the Aga Khan's private island.

Elizabeth Thompson can be reached at [email protected]

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