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Conflict of interest challenge holds up probe into Manitoba judge’s conduct

WINNIPEG- A Canadian Judicial Council probe into the conduct of Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench  Judge Vic Toews is on hold while the former Harper government cabinet minister challenges a conflict-of-interest decision.

Federal ethics commissioner Mary Dawson ruled in April that Toews violated the Conflict of Interest Act when he received money from two Manitoba First Nations.

The money was for consulting services he performed just after leaving federal office in July 2013.

Days after her ruling, the Canadian Judicial Council said it had opened a file on Toews and was reviewing his conduct.

The former MP continued to sit on the bench while the complaint was investigated.

Toews challenged Dawson’s decision and his lawyer expects to file legal arguments this fall, prior to a hearing that could begin in January after the federal Justice Department responds.

Johanna Laporte, a CJC spokeswoman, said Tuesday the council’s inquiry into the complaint against Toews is “in abeyance” until his legal challenge plays out in the courts.

“The issues that gave rise to the concerns about (Toews’) conduct are at the heart of his federal court action,” Laporte said in an interview from Ottawa.

She said there was nothing unusual about the commission’s decision to suspend its investigation, “particularly when the issue that’s the subject of the complaint is being litigated.”

“It’s certainly not dropped,” she said of the CJC probe, although it’s expected it will be delayed for some time.

The identity of the complainant in the CJC matter has not been released.

Toews has formally launched his suit against Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould, since he is legally prevented from suing the federal tribunal over its ruling.

Toews has argued that Dawson’s findings were “inaccurate” and “inconsistent with the evidence” presented to her.

He also argues he was unable to respond properly to the accusations made against him because witnesses were barred by Dawson’s office from speaking to him.

His lawyer, Rober Tapper, said his client is seeking a judicial review of the ethics commissioner’s ruling.

While a hearing may be held as early as January, it could take months for the Federal Court of Appeal to issue a ruling. If there is a split decision, the case could go to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Duff Conacher, co-founder of the advocacy group Democracy Watch, said he believes Toews should have been suspended from his position on the bench until the complaint into his conduct is dealt with.

Toews became a judge in 2014. He served as a member of Parliament for nearly 13 years and was in Stephen Harper’s cabinet for 71/2 years.

He served as president of the treasury board and public safety minister, and also was Canada’s justice minister from February 2006 to January 2007. (Winnipeg Free Press)



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