RCMP considered charging Trudeau with fraud over 2016 Aga Khan trip, access-to-information request shows

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The RCMP considered charging Justin Trudeau with fraud over a family vacation at the Aga Khan’s private island in the Bahamas, but decided against doing so because it was unclear if the Prime Minister had the authority to approve the all-expenses-paid gift for himself.

RCMP documents from 2019, recently released in response to an access-to-information request, outline the force’s investigation into the 2016 Trudeau family Christmas vacation at the Ismaili Muslim leader’s luxurious retreat. The documents reveal the Mounties looked at whether they could charge Mr. Trudeau with breach of trust or fraud based on the findings in a report from the federal Ethics Commissioner.

The December 2017 report, issued by former ethics commissioner Mary Dawson,concluded that Mr. Trudeau had violated four sections of the Conflict of Interest Act by accepting the vacation, because there was ongoing official business between the federal government and the Aga Khan.

Ms. Dawson said the vacation, which included the use of the Aga Khan’s private helicopters and planes, might reasonably be seen to have been given to the Prime Minister in order to influence him.

According to the RCMP documents,the Mounties concluded there was insufficient evidence that Mr. Trudeau committed breach of trust. But they debated the merits of whether Mr. Trudeau could be charged with fraud.

While the RCMP believed there were “reasonable grounds” to think fraud may have been committed, the force decided it would not be in the public interest to lay charges because of a lack of clarity in federal rules that apply to accepting gifts.

“It is unclear whether Mr. Trudeau can be prosecuted under section 121(1)(c) of the Criminal Code, since the section has a provision which allows officials to accept benefits from individuals with government dealings, provided the official has the written consent of the head of their branch of government,” RCMP Corporal Michael Kiperchuk said in a briefing note to his superiors.

Section 121(1)(c) of the Criminal Code says government officials must have “the consent in writing of the head of the branch of government that employs them or of which they are an official” in order to receive any gift from anyone who has specific dealings with the government.

Because Mr. Trudeau was the sitting Prime Minister and head of government, Cpl. Kiperchuk said, “an investigation and prosecution under this section may not be in the public interest if it cannot be definitely determined whether or not Mr. Trudeau can simply provide consent to himself.”

The RCMP investigator also said he was concerned that Ms. Dawson’s findings would be inadmissible in criminal proceedings owing to “judicial oversight, higher evidentiary thresholds and parliamentary privilege.”

The RCMP documents were acquired through an access to information request by the Conservative Party, which provided them to The Globe and Mail.

According to the documents, Mr. Trudeau’s actions as Prime Minister “were arguably more damaging to the Government of Canada’s appearance of integrity” than any similar actions carried out by a lower-ranking government official.

But the RCMP concluded that, aside from the low prospect of conviction, charging a sitting Prime Minister would cause damage that would “vastly outweigh” thenegative effectsof charging an ordinary member of the public.

The RCMP wrapped up their investigation on Sept. 25, 2019, saying in an internal document there was “insufficient evidence to proceed” with criminal charges. The Mounties had opened the investigation after Conservative MP Peter Kent, who did not run in the 2021 election, wrote a letter to RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki in May 2019 to request a criminal probe.

The Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement that it had no further comment on the vacation. The RCMP issued a statement to The Globe on Friday, saying the force did a “thorough and impartial analysis” and that their findings were independently validated by two separate third parties, including the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Conservative MP James Bezan, who is his party’s ethics critic, said he believes criminal charges should have been pursued against Mr. Trudeau.

“I would say that, again, this proves that there’s one set of rules for Justin Trudeau and all the rest of us have to live under the other rules, which includes the Criminal Code,” Mr. Bezan said in an interview.

“Nobody should be above the law, and it’s up to the RCMP to ensure that nobody’s above the law, yet they made the determination not to pursue a criminal charge.”

Ms. Dawson’s summary of her findings, known as the Trudeau Report, looked at several vacations the Prime Minister and his family took to the Aga Khan’s island, Bells Cay, between 2014 and 2017. Vacations from March and December 2016 were the primary concern of the report.

The Aga Khan has had a long-standing relationship with the Canadian government in his role as the founder and director of the Aga Khan Foundation Canada. The government has contributed nearly $330-million to the foundation since 1981.

Mr. Trudeau has said he had a personal friendship with the Aga Khan, who was also friends with his father, former prime minister Pierre Trudeau.

Following the 2017 ethics report, opposition parties argued Mr. Trudeau should refund the treasury the costs of transportation and security for the trips. Mr. Trudeau acknowledged that he should have checked with the ethics commissioner before accepting the vacations and said he would be sure to clear all future trips.

In 2020, Conservative MP Michael Barrett made a complaint to the RCMP’s Civilian Review and Complaints Commission. He asked why the force had not launched any further investigation into the matter.The CRCC ruled that the RCMP had acted appropriately.

CRCC chair Michelaine Lahaie wrote to Mr. Barrett in July 2021, saying the Commission “is satisfied that the decision not to launch a full criminal investigation into this matter was reasonable.”

This article was originally sourced by www.theglobeandmail.com.