Mulroney-Schreiber Affair: Of Foxes and Henhouses

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Democracy Watch Seeks Pro Bono Lawyer to Help Challenge Commissioner's Decision and Calls on Parliamentarians to Restore "Apparent Conflict of Interest" Rule 
by Democracy Watch 
Today, Democracy Watch called on lawyers from across Canada to help it challenge the precedent-setting ruling issued Monday [January 7, 2008] by the federal Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson which concluded that, even when the Prime Minister's and Cabinet ministers' own actions and the actions of one of their close associates are in question, it is fine for them: to choose whether a judicial inquiry will take place; to set the scope of the inquiry; to choose the inquiry commissioner(s) who will judge them, and; to control a legal proceeding against another person who has made allegations about them.

Democracy Watch has written back to the Ethics Commissioner pointing out legal errors and requesting a reconsideration of her ruling, and questioning her lack of enforcement actions since she was appointed.  If the Ethics Commissioner does not reconsider and correct the legal errors in her ruling by issuing an amended ruling, Democracy Watch plans to challenge her ruling in court and is seeking pro bono legal assistance to do so.

Ethics Commissioner Ignores Law and Conflicts of Interest, Allows Prime Minister and His Cabinet To Choose Who Will Judge Themselves, Mulroney and Schreiber
OTTAWA -  Even Prime Minister Stephen Harper has acknowledged, and stated publicly, that he and all members of his government are in a conflict of interest concerning the Brian Mulroney-Karlheinz Schreiber situation, given that Mr. Mulroney acted until very recently as an adviser to the Prime Minister, Mr. Schreiber named the Prime Minister in a court affidavit, and the government is seeking the extradition of Mr. Schreiber to Germany.  Despite recognizing his own conflict of interest, Mr. Harper continues to take part in discussions (including during several year-end interviews with the media) and make decisions concerning the situation.

If Prime Minister Harper had not used his so-called "Federal Accountability Act" to weaken Cabinet ethics standards by removing the rule that requires ministers to avoid "apparent conflicts of interest" it would have been impossible for the Ethics Commissioner to approve of the Prime Minister's and other ministers' actions so far in dealing with the Mulroney-Schreiber situation.

Democracy Watch called on all members of Parliament to close this loophole by introducing and passing a bill as soon as possible adding the "apparent conflicts of interest" rule to the new Conflict of Interest Act.

Ethics Commissioner Dawson made the ruling in response to a complaint filed by Democracy Watch on November 26, 2007 that raised serious questions about the actions of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Justice Minister Rob Nicholson with regard to the Brian Mulroney-Karlheinz Schreiber situation being in violation of the measures in the Conflict of Interest Act.  She concluded that neither they nor any other Cabinet minister or Cabinet staff has a conflict of interest, and therefore they did not have to, and in the future do not have to, recuse themselves from making decisions concerning how the government deals with the situation.

  • "The federal Ethics Commissioner has ignored the clear conflict of interest of the Conservative Cabinet when dealing with the Mulroney-Schreiber situation, a conflict even Prime Minister Harper has acknowledged," said Duff Conacher, Coordinator of Democracy Watch. "In making this ruling, the Ethics Commissioner has dangerously weakened federal ethics standards by essentially making it legal for a prime minister or cabinet minister to decide whether there will be an inquiry into actions by them or their associates, and to choose their own judge, and to control legal proceedings involving people who have made allegations about them."

Even with the much-weakened ethics standards in the new Act, Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson's ruling still had to ignore well-established legal standards, and the public interest, and to reach legally incorrect conclusions, in order to let Prime Minister Harper and his Cabinet ministers and Cabinet staff off the hook.  The following is summary of the reasons she gave for her ruling:

[NOTE: To see the summary of the Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson's ruling, her full ruling, this news release in full, Democracy Watch's letter to the Commissioner responding to her ruling, and links to other relevant documents, click on the link set out further below]

  • "It is more than unfortunate that in one of her first rulings the new federal Ethics Commissioner has ignored clear evidence and the main purpose of federal ethics rules of ensuring the public interest is upheld over the private interests of federal politicians and their close associates," said Conacher.

It should be noted that Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson was appointed Associate Deputy Minister of Justice by then-Prime Minister Mulroney in 1988, and was selected by Prime Minister Harper and his Cabinet to be the Ethics Commissioner in spring 2007.

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Duff Conacher, Coordinator of Democracy Watch
Tel: (613) 241-5179

See this news release, the Ethics Commissioner's ruling and summary of the ruling, Democracy Watch's response letter to the Ethics Commissioner, and links to all key documents at:


Democracy Watch
P.O. Box 821, Stn. B
Ottawa, Canada
K1P 5P9
Tel: (613) 241-5179
Fax: (613) 241-4758
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Wednesday, January 9, 2008


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