Designer gifts pose ethical quandary
• A pair of RayBan sunglasses. A limited edition, painted leather clutch. Beauty products, glittering jewelry, shoes, luggage, children’s clothing, sporting accessories.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, are regularly showered with lavish gifts from world leaders and dignitaries.
But a growing trend among the high-priced offerings are gifts from private companies — clothing and accessories from Canadian designers hoping the famous family will sport their wares in public.
Canada’s ethics watchdog, Mario Dion, says all the gifts listed on the prime minister’s public gift registry are compliant with the rules of the Conflict of Interest Act.
But NDP ethics critic Charlie Angus says he believes these corporate gifts are “problematic.”
“What’s concerning is fashion labels sending clothes to the family, because this is a family that is very much in the spotlight, very much in the world of Instagram and there would be a very real benefit for a company to have them sporting their clothing labels as gifts,” he said.
“The connection to the pecuniary interests of those companies is clear and direct.”
If the Trudeaus are photographed sporting their gear, the companies often use these images to promote their business brands.
For example, the prime minister’s most recent disclosure shows he was gifted some clothing for his son, Hadrien, in July from the Vancouver-based company North Kinder. In late August, a photo was posted to Grégoire Trudeau’s Instagram account of her children and husband, featuring Hadrien wearing a T-shirt made by North Kinder. The company later posted this photo to its business Facebook page.
Numerous clothing designers have offered gifts to Grégoire Trudeau and have later posted photos or references to her sporting their wares on their websites and social media feeds.
It’s a relatively new phenomenon for Canada’s political realm.
Canada’s Conflict of Interest Act has only been in force since 2007, and has therefore governed only two prime ministers.
Stephen Harper received paintings, sculptures and even some personalized gifts such as Beatles paraphernalia from world leaders and dignitaries.
But the gifts from Canadian fashion designers fall within a newer category, Angus argues.
“We are dealing with a new genre of politics which is very much focused on the politician as a celebrity, and nobody anywhere in the world personifies this more than Justin Trudeau and the Trudeau family,” Angus said. “So a clothing line tied to them would have huge financial benefits.”
For that reason, Angus believes these kinds of gifts should not be accepted.