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Group will file ethics, police complaints about corporate sponsorship of Council of the Federation meeting

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Democracy Watch announced today that it will file complaints with every provincial and territorial ethics/integrity commissioner about the benefits every premier is receiving from various corporations who are sponsoring the Council of the Federation meeting, and will also ask the police to investigate as the premiers are directly selling access to themselves at the meeting, given the Criminal Code anti-bribery measures.

The premiers are benefiting from the corporations’ sponsorship of the meeting. Premiers oversee all decision-making in their governments, and so every gift or benefit they receive relates to every decision the government makes. Almost all provincial and territorial ethics laws across Canada prohibit politicians from accepting any benefit that relates to their position except their pay and pension etc., and the usual hospitality and protocol gifts they receive when meeting with other governments or speaking at events. The corporate sponsorship of the event is far more than usual hospitality and protocol gifts, as it covers a significant portion of the costs of the event.

As well, sponsors get the benefit in return of reserved attendance at social events held during the three-day meeting, events attended by the premiers and their staff. Other people are also invited to those events, but only sponsors are guaranteed a spot. As a result, in effect the premiers are selling access to themselves and their staff.

The Criminal Code of Canada prohibits politicians and other public officials from accepting any direct or indirect gift or benefit in respect of doing anything or making any decision — the politician or official does not actually have to do anything or make any decision to violate these measures. In a leading 1996 case ruling, the Supreme Court of Canada interpreted government integrity measures in the Criminal Code and stated:

“it is not necessary for a corrupt practice to take place in order for the appearance of integrity to be harmed. Protecting these appearances is more than a trivial concern. . .” and “given the heavy trust and responsibility taken on by the holding of a public office or employ, it is appropriate that government officials are correspondingly held to codes of conduct which, for an ordinary person, would be quite severe . . .” and “The magnitude and importance of government business requires not only the complete integrity of government employees and officers conducting government business but also that this integrity and trustworthiness be readily apparent to society as a whole.”

Corporate sponsorship of the event has gone on for years, and so Democracy Watch complaints will also cover past years‘ meetings.

“Corporate lobbyists providing hundreds of thousands of dollars in sponsorship to cover the costs of a meeting of premiers, and getting special access in return, is dangerously unethical and undemocratic, and hopefully ethics commissioners and the police will finally put a stop to this unethical favour-trading,” said Duff Conacher, Founding Director of Democracy Watch and Adjunct Professor in good governance and ethics law at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law.

It is true that corporations and other organizations often hold events at which premiers and other politicians speak, and their attendance gives the corporation or organization access to them. But these events do not excuse the corporate sponsorship of the Council of the Federation meeting — instead they highlight how ethics commissioners and police forces cross the country should be auditing politicians to ensure they are not, in effect, selling special access to themselves in many of these situations, access that voters do not have, in clear violation of ethics rules, and possible violation of the Criminal Code.

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