The Royal Canadian Mounted Police owe the managers of the Aga Khan’s private island in the Bahamas more than $56,000 for meals, accommodations and jet ski rentals during Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s controversial vacation, CBC News has learned.
Three years after the trip, the force has not yet reimbursed the costs “despite efforts made to do so,” said RCMP spokeswoman Acting Sergeant Caroline Duval.
While the RCMP say they have tried to pay what they owe, their financial accounting system generally requires invoices. The managers of the Aga Khan’s island said in e-mails obtained by CBC News that they want to be reimbursed for costs they incurred on behalf of the force — but they don’t want any invoices.
According to documents obtained under the Access to Information Act following a complaint to Canada’s information commissioner, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police incurred a $56,000 tab in 2017 for “accommodations/meals/jet ski rentals” for the Prime Minister’s Protection Detail (PMPD), the RCMP unit that guards Canada’s prime ministers.
The force said the costs were directly linked to the unit’s mandate “to provide close protection measures to the Prime Minister and his family.”
The RCMP refuses to say how much of the money was spent on jet ski rentals, saying “doing so could expose security details about the number of personnel assigned to protect the PM and his family.”
Documents outlining the costs the RCMP had to reimburse list five charges ranging from $3,500 to $22,000.
Duval said nobody other than RCMP personnel used any jet ski rented on behalf of the force.
The documents also reveal that the PMPD tried to prevent the cost from being revealed to the public. It asked that the $56,000-plus tab be exempted from proactive disclosure and be censored to remove references to the costs being incurred during the Trudeau family’s Christmas vacation.
Under federal government rules, departments are supposed to proactively reveal details about contracts worth more than $10,000, unless disclosing them would jeopardize things like public safety or national security.
In a memo dated Feb. 14, 2017, RCMP Manager of Contract Quality Assurance Markos Vennos questioned why the PMPD wanted to exempt the spending from disclosure since the vacation was over.
“I sent the rationale for non-disclosure that PMPD provided up through my Director who in turn sought advice from our DG,” he wrote. “She does not feel that we can exclude the contract from being disclosed proactively.”
Because the bill has not yet been paid, it has not been disclosed proactively.
Trudeau has come in for heavy opposition criticism over his decision to take the trip to the Aga Khan’s exclusive private island in the Bahamas over the Christmas holidays in 2016/17. Liberal MP and longtime friend Seamus O’Regan and his husband Steve Doussis joined Trudeau’s family on the island, along with Anna Gainey, who was Liberal Party president at the time, and her husband Tom Pitfield, a longtime friend and a key member of Trudeau’s election campaign team.
Then-ethics commissioner Mary Dawson found in December 2017 that Trudeau violated four sections of the Conflict of Interest Act, which governs public office holders, when he accepted the vacation from the Aga Khan. She rejected Trudeau’s argument that the Aga Khan, whose foundation and Global Centre for Pluralism deal with the federal government, was simply a family friend and said the vacations could be perceived as an attempt to influence Trudeau.
A separate case, which centres on the question of whether the Aga Khan violated Canada’s lobbying rules, is to be heard by the Federal Court of Appeal on Dec. 12.
The trip cost the Canadian government more than $215,000, with the RCMP accounting for $153,504 of the tab.
The RCMP has not yet responded to a question from CBC News about whether the $56,000-plus it has yet to pay is included in that total.
While other government departments have provided some details of their spending, the RCMP repeatedly has refused in the past to detail its spending, maintaining that it could jeopardize the security of the prime minister.
The documents, however, provide new insight into the cost of the trip and the logistical challenges posed by what the RCMP referred to as the “Maple family deployment to Nassau, Bahamas.”
When he was a child, the RCMP’s codename for Trudeau was Maple 3.
On Jan. 1, 2017 in an e-mail with the subject line “Costs for Accommodations/Meals/Jet Ski rentals,” Inspector Linda Blake, who headed the PMPD deployment, said she had asked the manager of Bell Island to provide an invoice for the costs incurred while her officers were on the island. A second e-mail to a Bell Island staffer the same day refers to doing “the actual calculation on the food, jet ski and boat.”
A separate document, entitled RCMP Requirements for Bell Island Guest Program, lists five separate charges.
While the descriptions are blanked out, a charge for $18,000 appears to correspond to a reference in the RCMP e-mails to a meal stipend. The RCMP said the meal costs were for RCMP personnel only.
A second charge is for $22,000. The RCMP refused to say whether the amount was for accommodation, saying to do so would reveal details about the number of personnel assigned to protect the PM and his family.
That leaves three remaining charges for $8,400, $4,500 and $3,500 — one or more of which are for jet ski rental.
The documents also reveal that the unconventional decision to vacation on a private island in the Bahamas triggered a bureaucratic nightmare behind the scenes. The RCMP struggled for months to find a way within its existing financial system to reimburse the costs it had incurred on the island, while the island’s managers were adamant they didn’t want to issue an invoice.
They got quite testy when a senior RCMP officer tried to draft one for them.
“I have discussed this situation and we are very concerned that you went ahead and produced an invoice on our behalf after we stated several times that we cannot issue invoices,” wrote Bell Island manager Gordon Overing on March 23, three months after Trudeau’s visit.
“We are NOT a business and have no license to issue invoices. As stated, this should be handled as a reimbursement for items rented on behalf of the RCMP.”
By April, the issue still had not been resolved.
“It looks like our normal federal government payment system is not compatible with the Bell Island operations,” wrote RCMP Superintendent Pierre J.G. Ménard, director of Close Protection Details.
“Isn’t there any way that we can find a solution to pay them that would satisfy both the federal government financial bureaucracy and the Bell Island managers.”
The documents provide tantalizing glimpses of what life was like on the Aga Khan’s private island during Trudeau’s stay, and what one Bell Island employee described as “the full Bell Island experience.”
“Things should start to get a bit busier over the next few days,” says an internal e-mail to staff on Bell Island, which included the island’s manager of marine operations and another staff member whose LinkedIn profile describes him as a valet and gentleman’s gentleman to a royal family in France.
“We are going to climb to 31 guests for NYE (New Year’s Eve) and 35 guests from the 1st to the 4th.”
It came to light after Dawson’s report that then-U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was on the island at the same time as Trudeau. Trudeau said he had a chance to talk with Kerry about the state of the world and the incoming Trump administration. He described lunches and dinners with about 20 people around the table.
It is not known who else was a guest on the island at the time beyond the Aga Khan, John Kerry, Trudeau, his family and guests.
At the same time Trudeau and his family were there, the Aga Khan’s staff planned an excursion on the Aga Khan’s 46-metre luxury yacht Shergar. The prime minister’s office refused repeatedly to say whether Trudeau and his family or guests sailed on the Shergar.
In May, Conservative critic Peter Kent called for the RCMP to look into the trip, citing a provision of the Criminal Code that prohibits public officials from accepting a benefit from someone who has dealings with the government.
But in a letter to Kent dated Aug. 19, RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki informed him the force reached the conclusion that it could not “productively pursue a criminal investigation.”
Kent said he plans to raise the issue when Parliament resumes sitting.
Elizabeth Thompson can be reached at [email protected]