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Trudeau confirms, defends private helicopter flight to Aga Khan's vacation island

FILE PHOTO - Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meets with the Aga Khan on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, May 17, 2016.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
January 12, 2017 - 6:45 PM

KINGSTON, Ont. - Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is confirming — and defending — his use of a private helicopter while vacationing with the Aga Khan, saying it was the only way to get to his friend's secluded Bahamian island.

The prime minister and his family spent time over Christmas at Bell Island in the Bahamas.

To do so, they flew to Nassau on a Canadian government jet, but made the last leg of the journey aboard the Aga Khan's helicopter.

Trudeau's own ethics guidelines bar the use of sponsored travel in private aircraft, allowing only for exceptional circumstances related to the job of prime minister and only with the prior approval of the ethics commissioner.

But he says he doesn't believe the trip poses any ethical dilemma.

He says he's happy to discuss the matter with conflict of interest and ethics commissioner Mary Dawson "and answer any questions she may have."

Trudeau only confirmed the helicopter flight when speaking to reporters on Thursday, noting it's the only way to get to Bell Island.

"The travel back and forth from Nassau happens on the Aga Khan's private helicopter, which he offered us the use of," Trudeau told a news conference in Kingston, Ont.

"It's something that certainly we look forward to discussing with the conflict of interest and ethics commissioner, but we don't see an issue on that."

He repeated that the vacation was a family trip, adding that it's no secret that he has known the Aga Khan since childhood.

"The fact that the Aga Khan has been a longtime family friend is well known; he was a pallbearer at my father's mildly publicized funeral a number of years ago."

On Wednesday, Conservative MP Blaine Calkins asked Dawson to investigate Trudeau's trip, a request that came a day after Tory leadership contender Andrew Scheer made a similar request.

Both complaints question whether it is OK for the prime minister to accept the hospitality of someone whose foundation receives funds from the Canadian government.

"Section 12 of the Conflict of Interest Act clearly states that ministers, their families and their staff are prohibited from accepting travel by private aircraft, unless it's approved by the ethics commissioner," Calkins writes.

"Given that the prime minister did not contact the ethics commissioner prior to travelling, continues to dodge questions from the media, and has a history of questionable ethical decisions, Canadians are rightly concerned."

The Aga Khan Foundation has been the beneficiary of tens of millions of dollars in government contributions to international development projects.

The Aga Khan himself, while not a registered lobbyist, is a noted philanthropist and the hereditary spiritual leader of the world's approximately 15 million Ismaili Muslims.

In 2009, then-prime minister Stephen Harper made him an honorary citizen of Canada.

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2017
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