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Justin Trudeau may have broken ethics laws by vacationing with a billionaire religious leader

The prime minister admitted that he accepted a ride on the Aga Khan's private helicopter without clearing it first with the ethics commissioner.
Justin Ling
Montreal, CA

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has admitted that he accepted a ride on a billionaire’s private helicopter without clearing it first with the ethics commissioner, essentially copping to breaching federal conflict of interest rules.

It came out after the holidays that Trudeau had vacationed — with his family, one of his members of Parliament, and the director of his political party — on a private island owned by the Aga Khan, Prince Shah Karim Al Husseini, the spiritual leader of the global Ismaili Muslim community.


At a press conference on Thursday, Trudeau said the Aga Khan had given him a lift from Nassau to Bell Island, both located in the Bahamas.

Trudeau’s helicopter ride was originally reported in the National Post on Wednesday and confirmed by Trudeau on Thursday.

According to the federal Conflict of Interest Act, “no minister…shall accept travel on non-commercial chartered or private aircraft for any purpose unless required in his or her capacity as a public office holder or in exceptional circumstances or with the prior approval of the Commissioner.”

Trudeau also admitted at the press conference that he did not seek clearance for the trip from Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson.

“The travel back-and-forth from Nassau to the island happens on the Aga Khan’s private helicopter, which he offered us the use of,” Trudeau told reporters on Thursday.

The opposition Conservative Party has already filed a complaint regarding the helicopter trip, and Dawson has opened a preliminary review.

Trudeau said he’ll be discussing the matter with the ethics commissioner but, fundamentally, “we don’t see an issue on that.”

The Aga Khan and Trudeau have been friends for years, but his ties to Canada also goes back to Trudeau’s predecessor — Stephen Harper worked closely with the Aga Khan on a litany of different files and initiatives.

Between both governments, the Aga Khan’s various foundations have received hundreds of millions of dollars to run international development and aid programs.

The Global Centre for Pluralism, which was founded between the Aga Khan and the government of Canada, has received support from various arms of the Canadian government since 2006.

Since Trudeau came to government, however, they’ve received a $15 million grant from Canada’s international development agency that came with little fanfare and no media attention.

The Aga Khan Foundation has also lobbied federal ministers more than a hundred times in recent years.

Altogether, Trudeau’s admission means that this issue is far from over.