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Former Liberal MP ordered to pay back nearly $10K after breaching rules by employing sister | CBC News

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Members of Parliament are ordering former Liberal MP Yasmin Ratansi to reimburse the House of Commons more than $9,000 after determining she breached parliamentary rules by employing her sister in her constituency office for more than three years using public funds.

The secretive Board of Internal Economy, the governing body for the House of Commons that controls Parliament’s spending, made the decision during an in-camera meeting on Feb. 25.

The chair of the board, Speaker of the House of Commons Anthony Rota, confirmed in a statement a three-month-long review of the matter has concluded. The board decided Ratansi must pay back “termination and severance pay amounts, totalling $9,391.27, that were paid to her sister when her employment was terminated,” according to the statement.

“The Board also noted Ms. Ratansi’s lack of cooperation during its review of the matter,” adds the statement.

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A press release issued by the board said Ratansi was able to speak to the board and give written submissions as part of the review.

The board concluded that, by employing her sister from Jan. 23, 2017 to Nov. 2, 2020, Ratansi breached the bylaw that states MPs cannot hire immediate family members.

WATCH | Ethics commissioner alerted to MP hiring sister years ago:

CBC News has learned that the Canada’s ethics commissioner was alerted to a problem in MP Yasmin Ratansi’s office more than two and a half years ago, but didn’t investigate until now. This comes after Rasani left the Liberal caucus last week after it was reported she’d been employing her sister in her constituency office since 2017. 1:45

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Ratansi left the Liberal caucus in November 2020 and currently represents her Toronto area riding of Don Valley East as an Independent. Last fall, after CBC News asked for comment on its story, Ratansi posted a statement on Facebook saying she “made an error in judgment” by employing her sister and had “remedied the situation” by leaving caucus. 

Several former employees told CBC News Ratansi tried to “cover up” the relationship at the office by having her sister go by a “fake” first name and making up official business cards with that name. Former staffers also said they saw Ratansi’s sister hide in an office or under her desk when people came into the office who might recognize her, and alleged they were instructed not to take photos of her at work events.

Ratansi issued a statement late Monday saying she was surprised the board made its ruling while the ethics inquiry is ongoing. 

“In the past [the board] has neither interfered nor duplicated the efforts of the independent investigation by the conflict of interest and ethics commissioner,” she said. “I had requested that the same courtesy be extended to me as it had to other parliamentarians in similar situations. It is not a lack of collaboration or cooperation but seeking fairness and a due and respectful process.”

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Ratansi with family members — including her sister Zeenat Khatri, to her left in the floral dress. (Facebook)

Several former staffers told CBC News Ratansi employed her sister at least from 2005 to 2011, then hired her again in 2017 — when Parliament’s rules changed to formally ban MPs from employing their siblings.

MPs have their own operating budgets and are allowed to pay constituency assistants a maximum salary of $89,700 a year, according to the House of Commons. That means Ratansi could have paid her sister up to $269,100 over three years.

The board found that Ratansi stopped employing her sister on Nov. 2, 2020, when CBC News was investigating reports that she was employing a family member. 

Calls for remedial measures

In response to the story, the Conservatives sent a letter to the Speaker of the House of Commons last fall demanding that “appropriate remedial measures” be taken against Ratansi and calling for her immediate resignation. Conservative MP Michael Barrett described the case at the time as “another example in a long line of arrogant and entitled behaviour by the Liberals.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Nov. 10 that Ratansi’s behaviour was unacceptable and he was “deeply disappointed” with how she handled her office.

CBC News later learned that the office of Canada’s conflict of interest and ethics commissioner had received a complaint about Ratansi employing her sister more than two and a half years earlier. Commissioner Mario Dion’s office said the complaint didn’t “appear” to fall under its jurisdiction when it received it in 2018.

WATCH | Trudeau questioned about Ratansi:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau faced questions today about Don Valley East MP Yasmin Ratansi, who has now left caucus to sit as an independent. 1:11

Watchdog sent ‘letter of concern’ 

The office changed its mind in the wake of media coverage of Ratansi’s case and sent a “letter of concern” to the MP that stated it was launching a preliminary review. The office confirmed to CBC News last week it has launched an inquiry into Ratansi. 

Dion’s office said there is nothing further it can add regarding the process. The office also said that inquiry reports completed by the commissioner’s office are released publicly on its website. In Ratansi’s case, that hasn’t happened yet.

Ratansi is also facing claims she created a “toxic and verbally abusive” environment at her office and that she ignored the immigration files of certain constituents. Ratansi “categorically” denied the claims in a Facebook post in November 2020.

“I sincerely believe that I have always behaved professionally and appropriately,” she wrote. “Former members of my staff remain close friends, and I am proud to have mentored many of them over the years.”

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