Ruby Dhalla and the ethics commissioner: looks like a dead end

Ruby Dhalla and her lawyer suggest new layers of complexity and even conspiracy in the story of allegations about caregivers her family employed. But don’t hold your breath waiting for the federal Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner to step in to settle the matter.

At her news conference today, Dhalla’s lawyer again referred to her request for the commissioner to review the allegations against her. It certainly sounds like the sort of thing that would make sense. The problem is that MPs took steps last year to make sure the commissioner doesn’t have any clear mandate to look into this sort of affair.

The commissioner, Mary Dawson, has the power to hold inquiries into cases where MPs might have used public office to benefit their private interests. But the emphasis is squarely on conflict of interest—not the general ethical tone or, for that matter, the legality of an MP’s behaviour.

The Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons details how an MP is prohibited from using public office to “further his or her private interests.” There’s no conflict of this sort suggested in any of the claims about how the Dhalla family’s former caregivers were treated.

Dawson’s office would only confirm to me that she is considering Dhalla’s request, and wouldn’t offer any help interpreting of how the code might—or might not—apply in this case. So I called Duff Conacher, the tireless head of Democracy Watch, who knows more about the conflict code than anybody else I know.

Conacher confirmed that there’s no obvious way for Dawson to take up Dhalla’s plea for an impartial inquiry into the matter. He points out an interesting wrinkle, though: up until last spring, when MPs changed the rules, Dawson just might have had leeway to examine a case like this one.

Here’s why. Before the code gets down to details, it opens with more general sections on “purposes” and “principles.” One of the principles spelled out is that MPs are expected “to perform their official duties and functions and arrange their private affairs in a manner that bears the closest public scrutiny, an obligation that may not be fully discharged by simply acting within the law.”

Now, a plain reading of that principle would suggest that Dawson might have conducted an inquiry to see if Dhalla’s private affairs stand up to such scrutiny.

Might have, that is, except that MPs on the House procedure committee last year added a clause to the code limiting the way the purposes and principles sections can be applied. Here’s the new part: “In interpreting and applying [MPs’] obligations under this Code, the Commissioner may have regard to the purposes and principles in sections 1 and 2.”

That means the purposes and principles are meant only to guide the commissioner in figuring out whether an MP might have violated the more precise conflict provisions spelled out in the “rules of conduct” part of the code. Violating a principle cannot itself be the subject of an investigation.

According to Conacher, then, the Dhalla case might have fallen under the code, had MPs not removed those principles from “the scope of the ethics commissioner’s investigation powers.” Why did the MPs do it? “They argued that [the principles] were just too vague,” he said. “Well, yes, some of them were. But they should have just amended them and taken out the vague wording.”

If Conacher is right, and it sounds to me like he probably is, then the Dhalla case might expose a glaring weakness in the code. If it does not allow for an investigation when an MP’s actions raise serious ethical questions, but which don’t happen to fit the definition of conflict of interest, then perhaps the code needs to be strengthened.




Browse

Ruby Dhalla and the ethics commissioner: looks like a dead end

  1. That’s too bad and it should be fixed. At first I didn’t think this belonged with the ethics commissioner because it wasn’t clear how much it had to do with Ruby Dhalla, as it was her mother and brother who lived in the house full time and whose name all the payments and documents were in.

    However, the accusers have not shown any interest in the mother and brother and have focussed on Ruby Dhalla. Also, her lawyer has now brought in the suggestion of an orchestrated attack and hinted at political motive, which is certainly consistent with putting the focus on Ruby Dhalla. All avenues should be pursued, so I think the ethics commissioner now would make sense.

    • I just really wonder if this is a setup that started about a year ago, when the nannies left her employ. Who is the MP who apparently knew about allegations but didn’t do anything? Perhaps the rules were changed back then in anticipation of this happening.

      Rovian politics.

    • The ethics commissioner cannot legally look into Ruby’s personal life, it is up to investigative journalists to expose this situation and expose her for what she is.

      The focus is on Ruby because she should know better than to treat workers this way- she is in the public eye as a (OVER)PAID government representative. Regardless of the crappy treatment of these workers by her mother and/or brother, Ruby is expected to do better…since we, the taxpayers ,will know doubt be paying for her golden parachute for the rest of her life. Kick her out now! Thinking Canadians demand it!!

  2. If it does not allow for an investigation when an MP’s actions raise serious ethical questions, but which don’t happen to it the definition of conflict of interest, then perhaps the code needs to be strengthened.

    No, sorry, not with you here. In the absence of any bearing on her role as a parliamentarian, keep this off the Hill, please, there’s enough garbage there already.

    What’s next? An MP is being a crappy neighbour over a common fence? a creepy landlord? a deadbeat tenant? missed two payments on the Diner’s Club? heavy foot on the gas pedal? obnoxious parent at the kid’s hockey game? never calls his momma?

    If there is profit from using her influence as an MP: fine. If she is selling her access and acting as a de facto paid lobbyist, or her vote is being outright bought: nail her. If there are allegations of the kind of daily junk any other non-MP could get caught up in, and this junk does NOT influence her functions in Parliament, for heaven’s sake keep it out of Parliament.

    • MYL, I initially thought that too, but now disagree. This is about Dhalla as an MP. Read the allegations of the four women (including Akemi Taniguchi) as well as Intercede. They are all about Ruby Dhalla. This is not about her mother or brother. Taniguchi has alleged that Dhalla said she would use her position as MP to get better immigration status for these women, essentially, to help herself get a cleaner house and shinier shoes, since that is what these women say they spent all their time on. That would be using her position as MP for personal gain according to these allegations.

      Futhermore, Dhalla’s lawyer is suggesting that she is being targetted because she is an MP. That would imply there was some collusion with political motivation behind these allegations.

      The first seems like it should fit into the restricted Ethics Commissioners guidelines and both of these certainly revolve around Dhalla being an MP.

      • Taniguchi has alleged that Dhalla said she would use her position as MP to get better immigration status

        OK, that’s the first morsel that would sway me. Certainly not the allegation that Ruby Dhalla is a bad and possibly lawbreaking monster-boss. And certainly not that it was she and not her bro or mom.

        Can we at least agree that the Immigration Committee should lay off the specifics of this one (alleged) case?

      • Just because the lawyer is saying something does mean that there is any evidence for it. The lawyer could say the same thing about any possible indiscretion. Just because you can make the wild accusation that there is something political about this, does not mean that it has any bearing on the matter.

        Like MYL says, you could make the claim that there is political involvement in a fence dispute, a landlord, or missed payments on credit cards. Which would mean that there was absolutely no bounds whatsoever on the ethics commissioner. Which would be ridiculous.

        • Yah, why take the word of one (or two or three) — its all in the evidence. Enuf wild accusations already, just hang her! Just as the lawyer could say the same thing, so could the accusers. Let all the evidence surface I say. But hey, who can argue with a cute baby. Even if it appears to be thick as a brick.

    • ” The committee of MPs had wanted to hear from Gordo and Tongson on Tuesday but, as of late Friday afternoon, the committee clerk had not been able to locate the women to issue an invitation for them to appear. “

  3. By the way, since they changed this recently, how quickly could the guidelines for the Ethics Commissioner be changed again? Obviously this is a case which involves ethics and parliament and Canadians would be better served to have this thoroughly investigated in a non-partisan way. I would like to see the guidelines changed and this case investigated as thoroughly as possible.

    • There is a legal principle involved in what you are describing. The law that applies to a particular incident is the law in place at the time of the incident. You cannot change laws and apply the new laws to something that happened in the past. It is morally unethical and unconstitutional. I think you need to examine your own ethics.

      • okay, point taken. I wasn’t thinking of the EC mandate as a law.

        Still with allegations that Dhalla said she would use her MP status to smooth the way for the women and make it more attractive for them to agree to work for her, where they polished her shoes and cleaned her bedroom, this would seem to fall under the current EC guidelines of using the MP position for personal gain.

        • What proof is there that she said this? Their word against hers?

          • No proof has been provided, but the allegation has been made – actually by several people, the nannies and the woman who runs the employment agency. They are alleging that Dhalla said she would use her MP position for her personal gain which is exactly an Ethics Commissioner issue.

            I understand that one might not want to launch an EC investigation only on verbal accusations, but so far that is what these all are, and their seriousness and effect is sufficiently large to warrant an investigation.

  4. It seems to me that there was not a problem of being able to do an investigation based on the principles at one time and that being revoked (as, frankly, this idea that the amendment limited investigation where it could have been done under the principles seems a bit odd since surely the commissioner should have been doing inquiries where there was a mandate to do so…like an inquiry that the RULES OF CONDUCT were breached). If memory serves, the previous one was operating as though his jurisdiction wasn’t limited to parliamentary matters and the rules of conduct. That’s why, presumably, there was an amendment? Also, since the Commissioner’s role is assigned by the House as part of its Standing Orders, the commissioner basically has a mandate that only the House could have had (i.e. ensuring that parliamentary functions don’t benefit the MP–as in a conflict of interest). He/she operates within the privileges of the House, so must stick to that realm, surely? It’s like delegation of authority…here the delegation of the power to discipline (a privilege of the House). That’s why the Commissioner reports to the House and the House decides what to do.

    Besides, the Commissioner doesn’t have a mandate to look at offences (if that’s what is going on). She would have to stop and allow any investigation to proceed..

    Some may not like that. But is there accountability? Yes. The real test of an MP is the ELECTION. Who judges? You do. The electorate. The real “democracy watch”.

  5. I know, let’s have the police investigate! Yeah, they can sometimes be good at that sort of thing. They can look at both sides, i.e., whether Ruby Dhalla or her family contravened employment laws, or whether former employees concocted a scheme to ruin Ruby Dhalla’s political career. Also, a motion could be put before a judge to put a gag on this story until the investigation is complete, thereby not convicting, or acquitting, her in the court of public opinion.

    • Agreed. Although it would be unfortunate if all the press pre-gag remained so one sided.

      • Whot?! And give up our chance at a speedy and splashy public hanging?! Complete with five o-clock justice? I say Nay! Canada needs a sacrifice! Listen to the baby! Think of that s*f baby!

  6. What about – if she had an ethics complaint against another MP?

  7. An RCMP thorough investigation is required. Jake

    • Saying this is devastating to me, but let’s leave the RCMP out of it. We don’t need to add a scandal on top of the scandal, and I just don’t trust them anymore. Happily this investigation, it seems to me, is in the OPPs territory, and they’re still all right as far as I know.

    • I’m with Jenn. Sadly, the RCMP has shown it cannot be trusted, with tasers or with the truth.

    • Oh sure — when they’re controlled by Stockwell Day.

  8. Since the Dhalla family have receipts and testimonials from firms contracted to both clean the offices and shovel snow, that makes the claims by these women seem less than credible. If they lied about those two issues, what else did they lie about?

    This is pure Jason Kenney and his ‘Minnie-Me’ Parm Gill. They’ve been out to get Ms Dhalla for years. Last election Parm followed her around when she was going door to door campaigning, yelling threats, and the police had to get involved. His brother was arrested for defacing her signs.

    Dirty politics.

  9. Re : Emily Dee

    If that’s so maybe we should be investigating Jason Kenney and his ‘Minnie-Me’ Parm Gill

    • Kenney seems to be on the defensive now that the media is starting to put two and two together. When the story first broke, with spittle on his chin and a gleam in his eye, he listed the crimes Ms Dhalla could be convicted of. Now he’s pretending to care for ‘his colleague’? If he cared he would have told the media that nothing had been proven, so he would withold his comments.

      Why does Kenney travel with own personal Private Investigator, anyway? Airfare alone for the trip to India was $ 18,000.00 I guess I shouldn’t jump to conclusions though. I mean innocent until proven guilty, right?

  10. Because these alleged offences did not take place within the the House or in the performance of her duties as an MP this is not an issue for the Etics Commisioner or the Ethics Committee at this time If she is convicted of an offence then it will fall under their pervue to action. The current system works fine. Leave it alone and let it work.

Sign in to comment.