The Speaker of the House of Commons has delivered a stinging rebuke to International Cooperation Minister Bev Oda over what he called a “very troubling” case that made senior civil servants appear to have signed a doctored document.
But despite the sharp words, Speaker Peter Milliken said a procedural technicality prevented him from ruling on whether Ms. Oda misled the Commons and breached its rules.
The case concerns the Conservative government’s controversial 2009 decision to cut off church-backed aid group Kairos from federal aid funding. Immigration Minister Jason Kenney initially told an Israeli audience that Kairos was cut off because the government didn’t like its views on Israel, but Ms. Oda and other Tories insisted it was a routine decision.
Aid groups and opponents charged that the Conservatives have decided to cut off aid to groups whose political views differ from theirs – but the Tories said bureaucrats at the Canadian International Development Agency concluded Kairos no longer matched their priorities.
But new documents that emerged last December show that CIDA’s top officials signed a memorandum recommending new funding for Kairos before someone – the government won’t say who – inserted the word “not,” overruling the recommendation.
“The full body of material gives rise to very troubling questions. Any reasonable person confronted with what appears to have transpired would necessarily be extremely concerned, if not shocked, and might well begin to doubt the integrity of certain decision-making processes,” Mr. Milliken said in his decision on a Liberal MP’s complaint.
“In particular, the senior CIDA officials concerned must be deeply disturbed by the doctored document they have been made to appear to have signed.”
Mr. Milliken said he couldn’t rule on the case because the matter is still officially before a parliamentary committee, not the full Commons. The Liberal MP who made the complaint, John McKay, said he’ll talk to other MPs on the committee to see if they will press the matter, and ask for Ms. Oda to be cited for contempt.
The document that cut off Kairos’s funding includes a recommendation for Ms. Oda “that you sign below to indicate that you not approve a contribution of $7,098,758 over four years for the above program.” But the word “not” was inserted in handwriting, and CIDA president Margaret Biggs testified that it wasn’t there when she signed it, just three days before Kairos was told its application had been rejected.
Ms. Oda’s parliamentary secretary, Jim Abbott, apologized for telling the Commons that CIDA analyzed Kairos funding request and found it didn’t meet their priorities. He said he did not know that was untrue when he said it.
But Ms. Oda has yet to explain what happened, and her office declined to comment on Thursday.
Ms. Oda also signed the document, but it’s not clear if the word “not” was in it at the time – in other words, whether she approved or rejected the Kairos grant. Mr. McKay has suggested that she may have approved the grant, but was overruled by the Prime Minister’s Office.
But when she testified before the Commons foreign affairs committee on Dec. 13, Ms. Oda did not answer questions about who altered the document, arguing it doesn’t matter.
“It’s like we’re on CSI or an investigative forensic thing – who’s put the ‘not’ in. I’d like to know what your issue is,” she said then. “What is your issue?”