Former cabinet minister turned Manitoba judge broke ethics law: commissioner
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OTTAWA — Canada's former public safety minister has had his wrist slapped by the federal ethics commissioner for violating conflict of interest rules — and a democracy watchdog wants the Canadian Judicial Council to review the matter.
Vic Toews, who is now a judge in Manitoba, violated the Conflict of Interest Act twice in the months following his departure from politics in 2013 by working for two First Nations with which he had direct dealings during his time in office.
Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson released her report Friday, two years after initial complaints were made about Toews' post-cabinet activities.
The 41-page report finds Toews was hired to do lobbying and consulting work on behalf of two First Nations in Manitoba in the months after he left office. The contracts violated two different aspects of the Conflict of Interest Act.
In one, Toews provided strategic legal advice to Peguis First Nation and even helped draft a settlement proposal to the federal government related to the Kapyong Barracks dispute in Winnipeg. In 2007, Toews was the minister who signed off on the sale of the former military barracks, and was later named as a defendant in a lawsuit from First Nations, including Peguis, about the sale.
In that instance, Toews violated the part of the act which bars cabinet ministers for life from doing work on an issue they handled while in office.
"In providing strategic advice on a proposed settlement agreement in relation to the Kapyong matter, and in participating in its drafting, Mr. Toews switched sides," Dawson says in the executive summary of her report.
In the second matter, Toews violated Sec. 35 of the act because he signed a contract to provide consulting services for Norway House Cree Nation. His work included touching on a trust fund issue which the First Nation had lobbied him directly about on two occasions less than a year earlier.
Former cabinet ministers are prevented from working for an entity which lobbied them while in government for two years after leaving office.
A spokeswoman for the Court of Queen's Bench in Manitoba said Toews was not available to comment on the matter Friday.
Duff Conacher, co-founder of the advocacy group Democracy Watch, called it a clear case of violating the ethics legislation. He said it is frustrating the only penalty Toews will face is "a couple days of media attention."
"Overall I have to say it's much too little, much too late," Conacher said. "It's yet another example of how bad the ethics enforcement is at the federal level."
There are no specific penalties for violating the act in this matter.
Conacher said he intends to file a complaint with the Canadian Judicial Council, arguing Toews violated the "fundamental ethical rules for cabinet ministers."
"We're not talking about jaywalking here," he said. "It's not a small violation and it's a violation of a law."
Toews represented the Manitoba riding of Provencher for the Conservatives from 2000 to 2013, and was a senior minister in the Conservative cabinet from 2006 until his resignation on July 9, 2013.
In the spring of 2014 he was appointed to the Court of Queen's Bench in Manitoba by his former cabinet colleague, Justice Minister Peter MacKay.
— Follow @mrabson on Twitter