Former cabinet minister Vic Toews challenges conflict ruling in Federal Court
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OTTAWA — Former cabinet minister Vic Toews says ethics commissioner Mary Dawson made findings that are "inaccurate and inconsistent with the evidence" in ruling that he violated conflict-of-interest provisions.
In an application filed Wednesday with the Federal Court of Canada to have Dawson's April ruling thrown out, Toews also says he was unable to properly respond to the accusations because witnesses were barred from speaking to him.
Dawson's office has yet to file a response with the court.
Toews served in the cabinet of Stephen Harper's Conservative government in various portfolios from February 2006 to July 2013.
Dawson ruled that Toews, now a Manitoba judge, violated the Conflict of Interest Act in matters involving two First Nations after he left politics, but before he was appointed to the bench in 2014.
In the first case, she said Toews broke the rules by providing consulting services to Norway House Cree Nation despite having direct and significant dealings with the First Nation during his final year in office. While senior regional minister for Manitoba in 2012, he met twice with Norway House Cree representatives on possible changes to a flood agreement and a tax law.
The commissioner found Toews did the consulting work just months after resigning as minister, flouting a two-year cooling-off period.
Dawson said Toews breached another provision of the act by giving strategic advice to counsel for the Peguis First Nation about potential settlement of litigation over the transfer of military land, even though he was involved with the same file as a minister.
She noted former ministers are prohibited indefinitely from "switching sides" on an issue.
Soon after her ruling, the Canadian Judicial Council received a complaint about Toews' actions and launched its own review of his conduct. In the most serious cases, the council may hold a full inquiry and even recommend removal of a judge.
In his filing with the Federal Court, Toews says his two meetings with the Norway House Cree were "brief and limited in nature" and therefore he did not have direct and significant dealings with the First Nation during his last year in office.
Concerning the second matter, Toews says he did not provide "advice, direction or consultation" to the Peguis First Nation or its counsel regarding settlement of the litigation. Rather, he "merely provided strategic planning regarding potential development of the land at issue," should the legal proceedings be settled and the First Nation assume control of the land.
Toews acknowledges he was provided with copies of documents on which the commissioner relied as well as transcripts of interviews with certain witnesses.
However, Toews says all witnesses were bound by a "confidentiality requirement" that prevented them from speaking to him or his lawyer. Toews argues the prohibition amounted to a denial of procedural fairness and natural justice, and compromised his efforts to respond to the accusations.
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