Canada court orders fresh look into Trudeau visit to Aga Khan's island

OTTAWA (Reuters) - A federal judge has ordered Canada’s lobbying commissioner to reconsider a probe into whether the Aga Khan broke the rules by inviting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s family to vacation on his private island at a time when his foundation was registered to lobby Trudeau’s office.

FILE PHOTO: Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during a Liberal Party caucus meeting on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, April 2, 2019. REUTERS/Chris Wattie/File Photo

Canada’s previous lobbying commissioner declined to investigate a public complaint about the matter in 2017, saying that since the Aga Khan was not paid by his foundation, his offer of a luxury Caribbean vacation could not be seen as lobbying.

The Canadian prime minister was separately found to have broken ethics rules by accepting the vacation, though he did not face any penalties.

Trudeau has said that the Aga Khan is a close family friend.

Democracy Watch, a democracy reform advocacy group, challenged former Commission of Lobbying Karen Shepherd’s decision.

In a recently released ruling, Federal Court Justice Patrick Gleeson agreed that Shepherd’s scope was too narrow, quashing her decision not to probe the issue further. But he declined to order Canada’s new lobbying commissioner, Nancy Bélanger, to launch a formal investigation, instead returning the matter to her for reconsideration.

A renewed probe could revive a scandal that haunted Trudeau for months, with opposition politicians calling the luxury trip inappropriate and painting the prime minister as an out-of-touch elite.

When asked about the matter by reporters on Tuesday, Trudeau said: “We trust in the processes in place and respect the work that the court and the lobbying commissioner will do.”

Trudeau has said he has known the Aga Khan, Prince Shah Karim Al Husseini, since childhood. He and his family visited the billionaire philanthropist’s private island in the Bahamas in late 2016 and early 2017.

The ruling comes just months ahead of a federal election in Canada and as Trudeau is embroiled in another scandal over alleged interference in a corporate corruption case.

Reporting by Julie Gordon in Ottawa, editing by G Crosse