Cabinet minister in conflict of interest over funding for Chabad project in Markham submitted by Ottawa-based rabbi

By Louise Rachlis and Michael Regenstreif

In a report released March 10, Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson found that Conservative cabinet Minister Diane Finley – then minister of Human Resources and Skills Development – violated conflict-of-interest guidelines in 2011 when she awarded funding to the Markham Centre for Skills and Independence under the Enabling Accessibility Fund.

The Markham Centre is a Chabad Lubavitch project and the funding request was submitted by Ottawa-based Rabbi Chaim Mendelsohn, the director of Chabad of Centrepointe, in his capacity as director of public affairs for the Canadian Federation of Chabad Lubavitch.

Dawson found the project received preferential treatment after several interventions on its behalf from the Prime Minister’s Office, from then-ministers John Baird and Peter Kent, from staff in Finley’s office and from senior department officials.

As Dawson notes in her report, “It was clearly inappropriate that the funding went to the Markham project. This appears to have occurred as a result of the input that Ms. Finley received without regard to the conclusions that resulted from the detailed evaluations by the Department of all the proposals that had been made.”

Funding for the project was eventually cancelled when Chabad Lubavitch of Markham was unable to obtain the necessary permits to complete the project within the timeline approved for the funding. Approximately $50,000 in federal funds had been spent before funding was cancelled.

In a written statement to the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin, Rabbi Mendelsohn said:

“Canadian Federation of Chabad Lubavitch is a non-partisan network of Jewish community organizations serving the needs of people from a wide variety of religious, ethnic and social backgrounds. In that capacity, we liaise with elected representatives of all political stripes, and with all levels of government, irrespective of what political party is in power at any time.

“We were aware that the Ethics Commissioner was investigating the potential funding of a community project one of our affiliated groups was planning – although we were unaware of the specific nature of these allegations – and we co-operated fully with this investigation. The report of the Ethics Commissioner makes clear that neither I, nor anyone associated with Chabad Lubavitch, conducted themselves in anything but a proper manner, both legally and ethically.

“We congratulate the Ethics Commissioner for having conducted such a thorough inquiry, and we thank her and her office for ensuring that the good name of one of Canada’s premier faith-based community service networks  remains intact.”

Dawson’s full report can be read at http://tinyurl.com/Finley-Report.

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