Good afternoon Mr. Chair and members of the committee.
On behalf of the Commissioner of Lobbying, Karen Shepherd, I am pleased to be here with you today to discuss the sanctions in the Lobbying Act and the Lobbyists' Code of Conduct.
The Lobbying Act came into force in July 2008 to increase the transparency of lobbying activities, and help raise the confidence level of Canadians in the integrity of government decision-making. The mandate of the commissioner has three key components: establish and maintain a registry of lobbyists; reach out to lobbyists, their clients, and public office holders to raise awareness about the act; and ensure compliance.
My remarks today will focus primarily on the different compliance mechanisms under the Lobbying Act and the lobbyist code of conduct.
Contraventions of the Lobbying Act are primarily linked to registration obligations. These include failing to register as a lobbyist, failing to do so within the time limit within the act, failing to provide the required information in a registration, failing to comply with a request for information, and failing to clarify or correct information in the registry of lobbyists. Knowingly making false or misleading statements in a registration or any other document is also a contravention of the act. In addition, lobbying while prohibited from doing so by the five-year prohibition in the act is also an offence. Finally, consultant lobbyists are also prohibited from being paid based on a contingency fee.
The Lobbyists' Code of Conduct was introduced in 1997. The code regulates the behaviour of lobbyists.
Under the Lobbying Act, the commissioner has the authority to amend the code. Following public consultations, the commissioner amended the code in 2015. The new version of the code came into force on December 1, 2015.
The act requires the commissioner to table a report on investigation in both houses of Parliament when an investigation into a breach of the code is concluded. In fact, she has done so eight times over the past five years.
Anyone can make an allegation and inform the office about a suspected breach of the Lobbying Act or the Lobbyists' Code of Conduct. We also identify potential breaches from our own observations of the media and other publicly available information. The commissioner takes all allegations seriously. She will initiate an administrative review or a fact-finding exercise if she suspects that a breach of the act or of the code has occurred. An investigation is opened if the commissioner believes it is needed to ensure compliance with the act or the code. An administrative review is closed when the allegation is not well founded. An administrative review may also be closed in other circumstances.
The commissioner may choose to take measures that are better suited than an investigation to ensure compliance with the act. These measures may include educating the subject or requesting that a correct be made to the registry of lobbyists. These files are also subject to further monitoring.
In cases where the commissioner determines the allegation is serious and appears to be well founded, she will initiate a formal investigation if there's reason to believe an investigation is necessary to ensure compliance with the Lobbying Act and the Lobbyists' Code of Conduct. If the commissioner has reasonable grounds to believe an offence under the act has been committed, or has been committed under any other act of Parliament, she will refer the matter to the RCMP. The act requires that.
The investigations process is similar to the investigative review process. One of the main differences is that once an investigation is initiated, the commissioner can summon witnesses to give evidence and can compel the production of documents. These are special powers that have been provided in the Lobbying Act.
When a file is referred to the RCMP, the Lobbying Act requires the commissioner to suspend the investigation until the matter has been dealt with. Once the matter has been dealt with by the RCMP or in court, the commissioner may choose to resume her examination as an investigation under the Lobbyists' Code of Conduct.
The Lobbying Act includes penalties that may be imposed upon conviction in court of an offence under the act. A fine of up to $50,000 and imprisonment for up to six months may be imposed on summary conviction for knowingly giving false information, making a misleading statement, or failing to file a return. The maximum fine goes up to $200,000 and imprisonment for up to two years for a conviction by way of indictment. If a person is convicted of an offence under the Lobbying Act, the commissioner may also prohibit that person from engaging in lobbying activities for up to two years.
The Lobbyists' Code of Conduct is a non-statutory instrument and there are no fines or jail sentences associated with breaches of the code. A report on an investigation must be tabled in both Houses of Parliament to disclose findings, conclusions, and reasons for the conclusions once the investigation into an alleged breach of the code is complete. Reports on investigation are primarily intended to expose wrongdoing and deter the lobbyist from repeating the offence. Reports to Parliament also provide an incentive for all lobbyists to comply with the act and the code.
The act requires the commissioner to refer a breach of the act to the RCMP, however there must be a strong public interest to start a prosecution. For less serious transgressions, for example late filings, the public interest is not well served by referring such a file to the RCMP. Rather, in the commissioner's view, late filings are regarded as not warranting a criminal investigation, but they do negatively impact transparency. Our office currently uses a range of compliance measures, including education and monitoring, to ensure greater compliance with the Lobbying Act. This serves our office and the public well.
Approximately 5,000 lobbyists are registered to lobby federal public office holders and every month hundreds of communications with designated public office holders are disclosed by lobbyists. Several lobbyists have been coming forward to voluntarily disclose that they were late in registering and many lobbyists disclose breaches of the act voluntarily and give the office assurance they have taken the appropriate measures to comply with the Lobbying Act.
Experience in enforcing the act does leave a question as to whether the compliance measures available to the commissioner are appropriate, given the range of possible infractions. The commissioner, in her 2011 report on the statutory review of the Lobbying Act, recommended that the act be amended to include administrative monetary penalties.
I want to thank you for your attention, and I will now be pleased to answer your questions.