The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) lobbied an MP in January after being specifically instructed not to do so, and faced no repercussions. 

In May 2023, the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct was updated, including with a rule preventing lobby groups from taking MPs they lobby or expect to lobby on sponsored travel. At the time, lobbying commissioner Nancy Bélanger wrote in a letter to MPs explaining the changes that the hefty costs for sponsored travel “could reasonably be seen to create a sense of obligation on the part of that official.”

The new rules were to take effect on July 1, 2023. CIJA, a pro-Israel lobby group, asked Bélanger to “suspend the application of the code for the month of July,” according to the commissioner, who granted them this exemption but told them they’d be prohibited from lobbying any of the seven MPs they took on that trip for two years.

However, on January 30, just six months after the trip, CIJA lobbied trip participant and Conservative MP Scott Aitchison, who in 2023 claimed nearly $14,000 worth of benefits in the form of the lobby group covering his trip expenses.

NDP MP Matthew Green asked Bélanger about this matter during an April 16 Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics meeting, which was brought to The Maple’s attention by Duff Conacher, the co-founder of Democracy Watch. The organization published a press release about the incident on April 18.

The commissioner, who said she received “consent from CIJA to speak to this issue,” explained that she granted the initial exemption because she “did not think it was fair to tell [CIJA] not to pursue that trip since it had been organized for more than six months.” However, she said she informed CIJA in writing that they “must” abide by a two-year “cooling-off period,” in which they’d be barred from lobbying any of the MP participants. 

Bélanger acknowledged that in lobbying Aitchison in January, CIJA failed to abide by her requirement. However, she said that she decided not to investigate the matter further because, “CIJA advised me in February that they realized this individual had been invited to a presentation by CIJA by mistake. They were forthright in letting me know that they had made a mistake and would not do that again. It was an oversight that the MP had been invited and I accepted that explanation.” She referred to CIJA’s action as “inadvertent.” However, Bélanger also stated that, in fact, “All members of Parliament who were part of the mission had been invited,” meaning had the other six MPs who went on the trip chosen to accept CIJA’s lobbying invite, CIJA would have been responsible for seven contraventions of her written requirement.

The Maple asked Bélanger why she decided to accept CIJA’s claim that their invitation of Aitchison was a “mistake,” particularly given they seemingly invited all trip participants, according to her account (which consisted of: Aitchison; Kody Blois; Valerie Bradford; George Chahal; Kerry-Lynne Findlay; Jasraj Singh Hallan; and Shelby Kramp-Neuman).  

Her office replied, “As stated during her April 16, 2024, appearance before ETHI, Commissioner Bélanger was satisfied that the MP had been inadvertently invited to a presentation and that organization was forthright in advising the Commissioner of the issue.”

Bélanger’s office added, “To clarify, there has been no finding of a violation. The Commissioner only investigates when she has reason it is necessary to ensure compliance with both the Lobbying Act and the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct.”

The Maple also asked Bélanger if the exemptions she gave to CIJA contravene the spirit of the new lobbying rules, given that CIJA was the biggest funder of sponsored MP travel from 2019 to 2023, in front of the Taiwanese government. Her office replied, “The circumstances of this case have been explained above.”

In addition, The Maple asked CIJA if they contest any of the statements Bélanger made before the committee, and how they could have mistakenly invited seven MPs to a lobby meeting just months after they were explicitly informed in writing that they could not do so. CIJA didn’t respond. 

Also, The Maple asked Aitchison if he knew about the limitations placed on CIJA, and if so, why he chose to attend the lobby session. Aitchison didn’t reply. In her comments before the committee, Bélanger said he could not “be in breach of my code” anyway, given that the lobbying rules only apply to lobbyists.

The Maple has previously written about CIJA’s lobbying and sponsored trips.

As of November 2023, CIJA had taken at least 73 sitting MPs (22 per cent of all MPs) on sponsored travel to Israel, with several having attended more than one trip. CIJA spent at least $894,000 on these sponsored trips, for an average of $12,257 per trip by MP. 

CIJA has previously described its “educational missions” as “the single most important activity [we undertake] to educate Canadians about the people of Israel,” and has estimated that it and its predecessor, the Canada-Israel Committee, have taken about 800 MPs and senators on them. You can find all the details about the trips, including if your MP has gone on one, by viewing our report on the issue.

CIJA Has Taken Nearly 25% Of MPs On Paid Trips To ‘Israel’
MPs from four major parties have gone on these trips with the Zionist organization, receiving average benefits worth more than $12,000.

On the lobbying front, The Maple found that as of April 11, CIJA had lobbied 56 per cent of all sitting MPs and/or their office assistants. The number of times each MP had been lobbied by CIJA varied widely, from just once to at least 67 times. You can read more about this lobbying, and find out if your MP has been lobbied by CIJA, by checking out the article.

Here Are The 10 MPs Most Lobbied By CIJA
Nearly 60 per cent of current MPs have been lobbied by CIJA, but these 10, from all three major parties, stand out.

CIJA’s July 2023 trip to Israel is not the only sponsored trip there that has occurred since the new lobbying rules came into effect. In fact, one, not sponsored by CIJA, took place in November 2023, and included five MPs. 

So how did that trip legally happen? 

The Maple has explored this question in an opinion article, also written by this author, which examines what the future of sponsored Israel travel may look like due to the modified lobbying rules. It will be published tomorrow.  You can read it here.

Are Pro-Israel Groups Collaborating To (Legally) Evade Lobbying Rules?
A November 2023 Israel trip was hosted by a CIJA-linked group, and MPs were then lobbied by CIJA after their return.