Politics

RCMP not planning to reimburse cost of stay on Aga Khan's island

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police do not plan to reimburse the more than $56,000 in expenses its officers racked up for meals, accommodation and Jet Ski rentals during Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's controversial vacation on the Aga Khan's private island in the Caribbean, CBC News has learned.

Critic says not repaying the $56,000 for meals, accommodations and Jet Skis would be 'dangerously unethical'

The RCMP says it is no longer planning to reimburse the managers of the Aga Khan's island for the costs its officers incurred while providing security for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. (CBC)

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police do not plan to reimburse the more than $56,000 in expenses its officers racked up for meals, accommodation and Jet Ski rentals during Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's controversial vacation on the Aga Khan's private island in the Caribbean, CBC News has learned.

The RCMP says it made "numerous" attempts to reimburse the managers of Bell Island. However, the managers did not want to issue an invoice and the RCMP says it has not been contacted by Bell Island about the matter for some time.

"The RCMP considers the matter closed," said RCMP spokeswoman Catherine Fortin.

The RCMP estimates the decision to close the books on the question was taken in mid-2018, sometime between spring and early summer.

"There is no specific date when the matter was formally concluded," Fortin wrote.

Since the amount the RCMP wanted to reimburse was below $100,000, government accounting rules do not require the force to record a non-monetary transaction, she said.

Fortin said the RCMP's $56,000-plus tab for meals, accommodation and personal watercraft rentals was above and beyond the costs of the trip that are already known.

That means if the RCMP were to reimburse Bell Island, it would bring the force's costs for the trip to $209,504 and the overall cost to the Canadian government for Trudeau's Bahamas vacation to $271,000.

A house on Bell Island, the Bahamas. (CBC)

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair's office refused to comment.

"By law, the RCMP commissioner has control and management of the force," said Scott Bardsley, spokesperson for Blair. "The government of Canada respects police independence. Operational questions should be directed to the RCMP."

Duff Conacher of Democracy Watch said the RCMP should pay the bill rather than close the books on it.

"There's no way the RCMP should stop pursuing that payment," he said. "Because if they do, it essentially amounts to a gift by the Aga Khan to the RCMP, which is a very dangerously unethical thing to have happen given that the RCMP enforces Canadian laws that apply to the Aga Khan and the Aga Khan's foundation."

Duff Conacher of Democracy Watch says if the RCMP doesn't reimburse the Aga Khan's island for the cost of meal, accommodations and Jet Ski rentals it becomes a gift. (The Canadian Press)

Conacher said the expenses could "taint" the RCMP's ability to look into some matters.

"Police investigations, like all law enforcement actions, have to meet a standard of appearance of integrity and not even the appearance of any bias," he said. "And having this unpaid bill hang over them gives that appearance of bias because it's a gift, in effect, from the Aga Khan.

"So it taints anything that the RCMP may be looking into, including the gift to the prime minister by the Aga Khan and it causes a lot of ethical problems, which is why they have to pay it."

Conservative ethics critic Michael Barrett said the RCMP has to pay its bills.

"If the RCMP is skipping out on a $56,000 cheque, it doesn't really set a good precedent for law-abiding Canadians," he said.

Michael Barrett, Conservative ethics critic, wants Parliament's Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics committee to examine Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's trip to the Aga Khan's island. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Barrett said he wants Parliament's ethics committee to hold hearings on Trudeau's trip to Bell Island when the House of Commons resumes sitting in January.

"Now that there's new information, it requires new examination," he said.

Trudeau has repeatedly come under opposition attack for taking the trip to the Aga Khan's exclusive private island over the Christmas holidays in 2016/17. Trudeau long defended the trip, arguing that the Aga Khan, leader of the world's Ismaili Muslims, is a longtime family friend.

Former ethics commissioner Mary Dawson found in December 2017 that Trudeau violated four sections of the Conflict of Interest Act, which governs public office holders, when he accepted the vacation.

While Dawson investigated the trip, Canada's lobbying commissioner refused to investigate, saying the Aga Khan was not bound by the rules governing lobbyists because he was not paid to lobby. In April, however, a Federal Court judge ruled in a challenge launched by Democracy Watch that the lobbying commissioner's office had used too narrow a definition of what constitutes payment and should take another look at the question.

On Thursday, Democracy Watch and the federal government was back in court, making the cases before the Federal Court of Appeal.

Alexander Gay, lawyer for the Attorney General's Office, urged the court to overturn the Federal Court ruling, saying the law was never designed to cover those who aren't paid to lobby government.

Sebastian Spano, lawyer for Democracy Watch, asked the court to uphold the ruling, saying the alternative would be to allow wealthy individuals and unsalaried board members to lobby government officials without having to register as lobbyists.

The RCMP have rejected calls for a police investigation into whether the trip broke the Criminal Code prohibition on someone who deals with the government giving a gift to a public office holder.

"The RCMP's Sensitive and International Investigations team has thoroughly reviewed this matter and a decision was taken internally to not pursue a criminal investigation," Fortin said. "The RCMP takes all complaints seriously and decisions are reflective of the thoroughness, diligence and independence of our investigations."

On Friday, Trudeau issued a statement to mark the Aga Khan's birthday, a man he said "has worked for more than six decades to reduce poverty, improve healthcare and education and defend the rights of the most vulnerable, especially women and children."

Elizabeth Thompson can be reached at elizabeth.thompson@cbc.ca

About the Author

Elizabeth Thompson

Senior Reporter

Award-winning reporter Elizabeth Thompson covers Parliament Hill. A veteran of the Montreal Gazette, Sun Media and iPolitics, she currently works with the CBC's Ottawa bureau, specializing in investigative reporting and data journalism. She can be reached at: elizabeth.thompson@cbc.ca.

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