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Senate ethics committee urges censure of Tory senator over trip to China


OTTAWA — The Senate's ethics committee is recommending that a Conservative senator be censured for breaching the upper house’s ethics code when he accepted an all-expenses paid trip to China in 2017.

The committee's recommendation follows a February report by the Senate ethics officer, who found that Sen. Victor Oh blurred the line between his private and public affairs throughout the trip.

Pierre Legault ruled that Oh breached the code four times and then withheld information and deliberately misled the investigation into the trip, raising questions about his integrity.

"Your committee is of the view that Senator Oh’s conduct during the inquiry, particularly in relation to his attempt to mislead the Senate ethics officer and withholding information, does not uphold the standards of responsibility and accountability inherent to the position of senator," the ethics committee said in a report tabled Thursday in the Senate.

"Your committee is further concerned about the effect of this conduct on the public confidence and trust in the integrity of the Senate and the process established by the Senate to ensure compliance with the code."

Because there is no specific punishment for the sections of the code Oh violated, the committee recommended that he be censured by his fellow senators to make clear their disapproval of his conduct.

"Censure holds an important role as a visible mark on the parliamentary record denoting the shared values of senators, denunciating specific conduct, and aiming to deter others from engaging in similar conduct in the future," it said.

At issue is a delegation Oh led on a visit to Beijing and Fujian province in April 2017; the delegation included Chinese-Canadian community leaders, as well as two fellow Conservative senators, Leo Housakos and Don Plett.

Oh told Legault the trip was “a personal sightseeing journey” to his ancestral home, paid for by his sister.

But in his report, Legault said the evidence showed Oh touted the trip to others as a trade delegation.

He concluded that Oh violated the ethics code — which prohibits accepting any gift or benefit related to a senator’s position — by allowing his sister to pay for a trip that included a substantial official component.

And he violated it again when he attended banquets during the trip hosted by companies that were contemplating doing more business in Canada.

Legault also concluded that Oh failed to uphold the principle spelled out in the code that senators must maintain a clear separation between their public roles as senators and their personal, private affairs.

Legault exonerated Housakos and Plett, who had assumed the trip was a “routine form of sponsored travel” paid for by a Chinese-Canadian community organization.

The ethics committee said Oh declined to meet with it to discuss Legault's report. But in an email exchange with the committee, he accepted Legault's findings and promised to do his "utmost" in future to keep personal and official components of trips separate.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 18, 2020.

The Canadian Press