Justin Trudeau Breaks Own Ethics Rule with Bahamas Trip on Imam’s Private Jet

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listens to a question from a journalist during an event at a restaurant in Gatineau, Quebec, Canada, July 20, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Wattie
REUTERS/Chris Wattie

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spent New Year’s Eve on a private island owned by the head of the Ismaili branch of Shia Islam, arriving on a flight that may have violated ethics rules Trudeau himself has championed.

Canada’s National Post confirmed with the liberal Prime Minister’s office this week that he spent the New Year in the “Hamptons of the Bahamas,” a group of islands largely owned by millionaires. Justin Trudeau, his family, and two couples with ties to the Liberal Party traveled to a private island owned by the Aga Khan via the imam’s private aircraft.

The Aga Khan is a lifetime friend of Trudeau’s, and the Trudeau family generally, serving as honorary pallbearer alongside Fidel Castro during Pierre Trudeau’s funeral. He is the head of the Ismaili Shiite Muslim sect, a group of 15 million according to Canada’s CBC, and became close to the Trudeau family following the resettling of a large population of Ugandan Ismaili Shiite Muslims in the 1980s.

The Aga Khan Foundation has received hundreds of millions in federal funding for a variety of humanitarian projects and is registered to lobby the Canadian government, which makes the illicit acceptance of a helicopter ride — a tangible gift to the Prime Minister — a likely ethics violation. The ride may have violated both the federal Conflict of Interest Act and the Prime Minister’s ethics rules, which prohibit the use of “private aircraft for any purpose except in exceptional circumstances.”

The Conflict of Interest act required Trudeau to clear the use of the private aircraft with ethics commissioner Mary Dawson, which he did not. Dawson confirmed to the Toronto Star that her office has opened a “preliminary review” of the incident.

“The travel back and forth from [the Bahamian capital] Nassau to the island happens on the Aga Khan’s private helicopter, which he offered us the use of… we don’t see an issue on that,” Trudeau told reporters while commencing a national tour of diners and cafés in an attempt to connect to the common people following his lavish vacation, which is quickly evolving into a public relations disaster.

Even before Canadians knew where Trudeau and his family were spending the new year holiday, many in the media objected to the vacation. The Prime Minister’s Office initially refused to tell reporters where Trudeau was spending New Year’s Eve, except to note it wasn’t in Canada. This prompted some outrage, as Trudeau had described New Year’s Eve as a “once in a lifetime opportunity to ring in the new year together,” given the 150th anniversary of Canada’s founding this year.

“When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said New Year’s Eve was the perfect time for Canadians to celebrate the start of Canada’s 150th anniversary ‘together,’ he obviously meant ‘together’ without him,” the Toronto Sun quipped.

The controversy followed a difficult two months in which Trudeau’s praise for dictator Fidel Castro, a longtime friend of his father’s, and his unexplained presence at various Trudeau Foundation fundraisers significantly damaged his public approval ratings. Trudeau ultimately admitted to allowing himself to be lobbied as Prime Minister during Trudeau Foundation fundraisers, a potential violation of ethics law, but argued his attendance at the Foundation’s extravagant gathers was necessary to “create economic growth for the middle class.”


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