Canada says former ambassador to US violated conflict-of-interest law

A top Canadian ethics official announced Wednesday that a former ambassador to the U.S. violated a conflict-of-interest law, ordering nine senior government officials to halt all business with him for a year.

Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion said in an order Wednesday that former Ambassador David MacNaughton, an ally of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, broke the law as part of his work Palantir, which he joined in a senior role after leaving his ambassadorship last year.

Dion said MacNaughton worked earlier this year to speak or arrange meetings with several public office holders to offer Palantir’s free help with Ottowa’s coronavirus response, an effort the ethics watchdog said violated a law that “prohibits former public office holders from acting in such a manner as to take improper advantage of their previous public office.” 

“Mr. MacNaughton has acknowledged, with the benefit of hindsight, that these communications and meetings, to the extent they could have furthered the interests of Palantir, were contrary to section 33 of the Act,” Dion wrote.

Dion’s order also mandates nine senior officials, including Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains and Chief of Defence Staff for the Canadian Armed Forces Jonathan Vance, pause their dealings with MacNaughton for a year. The officials were among those MacNaughton communicated with in his work for Palantir.

Still, Dion’s office has minimal enforcement powers beyond crafting compliance orders. He can also issue fines and call witnesses for testimony.

The ethics watchdog first opened his probe in June on the urging of a member of Parliament, though MacNaughton has maintained he’s done nothing wrong. 

“I received guidance and I followed it,” he told Politico in May, referencing advice he sought from conflict of interest and ethics officials. “And I wanted to make sure I wasn’t either offside the letter of the law or the spirit of the law.”

Tags Canada David MacNaughton Government of Canada Justin Trudeau Mario Dion

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