Canada's Trudeau broke ethics rules with visit to Aga Khan island

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau broke some conflict of interest rules when he accepted a vacation last year on the Aga Khan’s private island, the ethics watchdog said on Wednesday, the first time a prime minister has been found to have committed such a transgression.

FILE PHOTO: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during a news conference at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China December 4, 2017. REUTERS/Fred Dufour/Pool

While the finding could tarnish Trudeau’s popularity half-way into his mandate, he does not face any penalties.

Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson said Trudeau contravened a rule on gifts when he accepted the use of the island in March and December 2016, while there were ongoing official dealings with the Aga Khan and the Aga Khan Foundation Canada was registered to lobby Trudeau’s office.

“The vacations accepted by Mr. Trudeau or his family could reasonably be seen to have been given to influence Mr. Trudeau in his capacity as Prime Minister,” Dawson said.

While Trudeau says the Aga Khan is a family friend, Dawson found the exception for gifts from friends did not apply.

Trudeau said he accepted her report and would clear future vacations with the watchdog.

“I take full responsibility for it. We need to make sure that the office of the prime minister is without reproach,” Trudeau said.

Trudeau and his family vacationed on the island during the holidays in late December 2016 into January this year. Members of his family visited in March 2016.

Trudeau has come under fire from the opposition, who have said the luxury Bahamas vacation was inappropriate and showed the Liberal government is out of touch with average Canadians.

The opposition has also accused Finance Minister Bill Morneau of being in a conflict of interest for not putting his assets in a blind trust. He has since said he will do so and has divested his stock in his family business.

Trudeau says he has known the Aga Khan, Prince Shah Karim Al Husseini, since childhood. The Aga Khan, the title held by the leader of the Ismaili branch of Shi’ite Islam, was a pallbearer at the funeral of Justin’s father, former Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau.

Trudeau also contravened the rules when he and his family traveled in the Aga Khan’s private helicopter last December and when his family traveled on a non-commercial aircraft chartered by the Aga Khan in March 2016, Dawson said.

However, she found no evidence Trudeau discussed any parliamentary business with the Aga Khan or his representatives, or participated in any related debates or votes.

Reporting by Leah Schnurr; Editing by Bernadette Baum and James Dalgleish