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House Ethics Committee must require Ethics Commissioner today to disclose more than 80 secret rulings since 2007

Commissioner has rejected more than 80 complaints since 2007 without disclosing any details or reasons -- in her 20 public rulings, she has found only 4 people guilty, and has let dozens of Cabinet ministers, staff and MPs off the hook with no penalty

Group launches national letter-writing campaign to push the Ethics Committee and the government to strengthen federal ethics rules and enforcement in 30 key ways -- public servant ethics rules and penalties are much stronger than politicians

Monday, February 11, 2013

OTTAWA – Today, with federal Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson testifying at the Committee this afternoon, Democracy Watch and the national Government Ethics Coalition called on the House Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics Committee to require Commissioner Dawson to disclose a summary of the more than 80 complaints she has rejected since 2007 with secret rulings.

The House Ethics Committee is finally, eight months after the legal deadline, undertaking the mandatory five-year review of the Conflict of Interest Act.  Democracy Watch and the Government Ethics Coalition also called on the Procedure and House Affairs Committee to stop holding secret meetings reviewing the MPs’ ethics code, mainly because when the Committee did that in 2007 and 2009 it weakened the code both times.

Democracy Watch and the Coalition launched a national letter-writing campaign to make it easy for voters across Canada to send a letter to both committees, and to key politicians across Canada, calling on them to strengthen ethics rules in 30 key ways.

According Ethics Commissioner Dawson’s annual reports, from 2007 to April 2012 she rejected at least 83 complaints filed with her without issuing a public ruling (it could be more as she did not disclose the total number of complaints she received in 2008-2009 nor in 2010-2011).

During that time period, Commissioner Dawson received complaints about, or became aware of, a total of at least 100 questionable situations, but she only issued 17 public rulings, and only found 3 people guilty of violating ethics rules (a few more were found guilty of violating administrative rules, like missing filing deadlines etc.).

“The federal Ethics Commissioner may be covering up more than 80 dangerously unethical situations that have happened since 2007, and so MPs must require her to disclose all her past rulings, and all her future rulings,” said Duff Conacher, Board member of Democracy Watch and Chairperson of the 31-member group, nation-wide Government Ethics Coalition. “Also, to end the negligent enforcement of federal ethics rules, the Ethics Commissioner must be required to conduct regular, random audits and required to penalize anyone who violates ethics rules with high fines, and anyone must be allowed to challenge the Ethics Commissioner’s rulings in court.”

The cases of the following people being let off the hook with no penalty, along with many others who escaped accountability for very questionable actions in past decades, show how much federal ethics rules and enforcement are an ongoing bad joke -- Prime Minister Harper, Nigel Wright, Tony Clement, Christian Paradis, Lisa Raitt, Rick Dykstra, Jim Flaherty, and 25 Cabinet ministers, ministers of state and parliamentarians who along with 35 Conservative MPs handed out government cheques with Conservative Party logos on them, and all MPs who accept sponsored travel from lobbyists.

The Conflict of Interest Act and the MP and senator ethics codes are so full of loopholes, they should be called the “Almost Impossible to be in a Conflict of Interest Rules” -- and even worse the rules don’t even apply to the staff and advisers of MPs and senators.  Currently, because of these huge loopholes, the Act and codes do not apply to 99% of the decisions and actions of the people covered by the Act and codes.

The ethics codes that federal politicians have imposed on public servants contain much stronger rules than the rules the politicians have written for themselves, and the penalties are stronger, including the possibility of being fired.

“Unethical decision-making in federal politics is legal, even by Cabinet ministers, and some political staff and appointees are still not covered by any ethics rules, so loopholes must be closed and enforcement strengthened to finally stop dangerously undemocratic and corrupting actions and relations with lobbyists,” said Conacher.

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