Ethics Commissioner Distances Herself From Strahl Complaints

Mary Dawson, the Federal Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner released a statement today distancing herself from recent complaints filed as a result of SIRC Chair Chuck Strahl engaging in lobbying activities for Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines while serving in his appointed function as Canada’s Spy Watchdog.

Commissioner Dawson states: “While we may advise caution in certain circumstances, it is the public office holder’s responsibility to determine how to manage his or her private affairs in a way that does not give rise to perceptions of unethical behaviour, and risk bringing the institution of public office into disrepute.”

Strahl has faced mounting pressure in recent days to step down from his role. NDP Leader Tom Mulcair asserted that “It is a pure conflict situation and he should either put an end to that conflict or he should resign. Strahl can’t have it both ways. What’s compromised is the public interest” said Mulcair.

The NDP pointed out the Security Intelligence Review Committee is involved in sensitive work – including providing oversight for CSIS’s monitoring of Canadian environmental organizations – a clear conflict with the work Mr. Strahl is doing on behalf of Enbridge.

“When current or former public office holders contact my Office, we provide them with advice on how to meet their obligations under the Conflict of Interest Act” said Dawson.

The Conflict of Interest Act distinguishes between “public office holders”, who are generally part-time appointees, and “reporting public office holders”, who are mostly full-time and face more stringent requirements.

In Commissioner Mary Dawson’s January 2013 submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics she recommended that all public office holders be subject to the Act’s rules with respect to disclosure of outside activities.

If an outside activity was incompatible with the public office holder’s official duties and functions, a compliance measure would be required to avoid a conflict of interest.  She recommended that all public office holders be subject to the Act’s rules with respect to disclosure of outside activities, This could include withdrawing from the activity.

"There is a definite conflict," said Duff Conacher, a board member of the nonpartisan citizens group Democracy Watch. "The fact that Strahl is on a federal committee and he is interacting with cabinet, all intertwined with a federal government agenda on pipelines is wrong.” He called the ethics commissioner "useless".

"Dawson has testified that these guys are honorable and that we should trust them. No system in the world operates on 100 per cent trust," said Conacher.

The Standing Committee is expected to deliver its report once parliament returns from recess.

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