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HindustanTimes Fri,19 Dec 2014

Conflict of interest: Punjabi-origin Canadian MLA gets clean chit

IANS  Toronto, October 18, 2013
First Published: 18:52 IST(18/10/2013) | Last Updated: 19:12 IST(18/10/2013)

Canadian investigative authorities have given a clean chit to an independent Indo-Canadian member of legislative assembly (MLA) on the charges of making legislative changes to benefit his company.

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Ethics commissioner of the Alberta province Neil Wilkinson, in a written judgment, absolved Edmonton MLA Peter Sandhu of all charges revealed in a CBC investigation involving unreported liabilities and improper lobbying, CBC News reported Thursday.

The written statement of the commissioner also said it was not a conflict of interest because other home-building companies would benefit as well from the change in the legislation.

The report came a day after a CBC News investigation said that associates of Sandhu had allegedly orchestrated a smear campaign against a local Punjabi journalist who had reported on Sandhu's debt problems.

After CBC reported his house building company had been sued several times for unpaid debts, which he had failed to disclose to the ethics commissioner as required by law, Sandhu withdrew from Progressive Conservative Party caucus in May and now he is an independent MLA.

The investigative report also stated that Sandhu had sworn a false affidavit in a civil court case.

Again, another CBC report stated that Sandhu had persistently lobbied senior executives within Service Alberta, which oversees Alberta's Residential Tenancies Act, to change Alberta's Builders' Lien Act to benefit his home-building company.

The ethics commissioner found that Sandhu had failed to disclose his unpaid debt but she noted all the cases were settled shortly after Sandhu filed his annual member disclosure report.

Wilkinson accepted Sandhu's explanation that he had not disclosed the actions because he considered that the cases were so close to being settled he didn't consider it necessary.

She added that Sandhu acted on poor advice from his lawyer.

“I find there was no malfeasance on the part of member Sandhu in any of these instances; there was no deliberate attempt to conceal actions for some underlying reason,” she stated in her report.

“(Sandhu's lawyer) (James) Heelan characterised the member Sandhu's behaviour as 'an oversight', but I find it was a mistake,” she added.

Wilkinson said Sandhu had done the “right and honourable thing” by bringing the matter to the ethics commissioner and ruled no sanction was warranted.

Sandhu brought the matter to the commissioner's attention May 13, the day before CBC published and broadcast its story.

“Member Sandhu's persistence in this matter created an appearance of conflict of interest but did not amount to an improper use of his office,” the commissioner's written statement said.

“Whether by oversight or mistake, I conclude member Sandhu's six failures to disclose were each an individual breach of the Act,” Wilkinson stated.

“Member Sandhu indicates he 'has learned his lesson'. I have no doubt this is true,” she added.

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