Letter by PM’s brother on behalf of accused terrorist awkward but doesn’t break rules

’s ethics watchdog has no immediate plans to investigate a letter the prime minister’s brother sent to a federal cabinet minister on behalf of an accused al-Qaida terrorist.

, a journalist and filmmaker, wrote to Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale last week urging him to halt the deportation of Algerian-born Ottawa resident .

Trudeau has long been an advocate for Harkat and others, including Hassan Almrei and Adil Charkaoui, detained under Canada’s controversial security certificate legislation. His letter to Goodale, however, marked his first formal venture into politics since his brother became Prime Minister last fall.

The move put , the elder brother, into an awkward spot. But it does not appear to have violated any obvious legal rules.

Alexandre, who is sometimes known by his childhood nickname “Sacha,” is not being paid for his advocacy, according to Harkat’s wife, Sophie Harkat. That means he is not a lobbyist under existing legislation and does not have to register as such.

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The office of Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson, meanwhile, has no plans to investigate the incident, according to a spokesperson.

“On the basis of the information we have, the Office is not looking into the matter at this time,” wrote Marie Danielle Vachon in an email.

At a news conference in Vancouver Wednesday, Justin Trudeau said his brother has the same rights as any other Canadian when it comes to public advocacy.

The two have long been close, according to John English, who wrote two biographies of their father, the late prime minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau.

“They socialize together. Their wives are friends and their kids are friends, as much as you can be friends at that age,” he said.

But that doesn’t mean they necessarily agree on everything political.

“Sacha is his own person, obviously,” English said. “This (letter) would be consistent with the attitude he’s had on this (issue) for years.”

Justin Trudeau said Wednesday that the government has a “rigorous process” in place to review the deportation. “And we will be following that process with the kind of rigour and seriousness that Canadians expect us to,” he added.

The Conservative Party, however, urged the prime minister to speak out against his brother’s intervention.

“The very fact he (Alexandre Trudeau) is trying to leverage his position, I think, is inappropriate, particularly when he’s writing ministers directly, asking them to exercise discretion,” said Public Safety Critic Erin O’Toole. “I think it’s important for the Prime Minister to suggest it was inappropriate for his brother to act like this.”

Alexandre Trudeau has long had a complicated relationship with the spotlight. He has spent his adult life making films about and reporting from foreign hotspots, including Serbia, Iraq and Liberia. But he has always been reticent to speak out in public, except when explicitly promoting his work.

In addition to his brother, he has close ties with several senior Liberals, including cabinet ministers Dominic LeBlanc and Melanie Joly, both of whom are old friends. He worked on his brother’s Liberal leadership campaign, but had no formal role in the election last October that saw Justin Trudeau become prime minister.

Caroline PhillipsCaroline PhillipsJustin Trudeau with his younger brother Alexandre in March 2010.

Since then, Alexandre Trudeau has said he has had a policy of not lobbying the Liberal government. But he made an exception in this case because of his long involvement with the Harkat file. In 2005, Alexandre Trudeau offered to serve as a surety for Harkat at a bail hearing. (He did the same for Almrei and Charkaoui.) In 2006, he wrote and directed a documentary about the security certificate program that featured Harkat and his wife.

Harkat, a former pizza delivery man, has been accused by the government of entering Canada as a sleeper agent for a terrorist group. A Supreme Court decision in 2014 cleared the way for his deportation under the security certificate program.

In his letter to Goodale, Alexandre Trudeau urged the minister to reverse that decision, a move he said would be “a shining example of your government’s commitment to sunny ways.

“I am absolutely convinced that at this moment, he (Harkat) poses no danger whatsoever to the public or to public safety in Canada,” Alexandre Trudeau wrote.

“Just as importantly, Canadian and international law prohibit complicity in torture, and there is good reason to believe that Mohamed’s deportation to Algeria could lead to his torture.”

Efforts to reach Alexandre Trudeau through his production company, JuJu Films, were unsuccessful Wednesday.

— With files from Andrew Duffy, The Ottawa Citizen and the Canadian Press

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