Kamal Khera will not answer questions about her trip to Seattle over the holiday period.
After the Liberal MP for Brampton West stepped down from her additional parliamentary duties when admitting she travelled to the United States, The Pointer put a number of questions to the second-term federal legislator.
In a statement over the weekend she claimed her visit to Seattle for a family “memorial” service was an essential trip, but she is refusing to explain why.
“MP Khera has no further details to add to the statement she has provided,” her constituency office stated in an email to The Pointer Monday.
The MP said she was stepping down from her role as parliamentary secretary so her behaviour will not distract from the Liberal government’s focus on fighting the ongoing pandemic.
Khera will no longer be parliamentary secretary to the Minister of International Development, leaving Brampton without any MPs on Parliament Hill with additional responsibilities or titles beyond committee functions.
In a statement released Sunday night, Khera joined a growing list of politicians across Canada admitting to international travel in December despite messages from their respective governments strongly advising against it. In Ontario, PC MPP Rod Phillips resigned his post as finance minister after a holiday to the Caribbean was made public, while politicians in Quebec, Alberta and Saskatchewan are all facing questions about their holiday travel.
Khera said her trip to Seattle, Washington, was to “attend a private memorial of less than 10 people” for her late uncle, who passed away in the fall of 2020. She left Canada on December 23 and returned on December 31.
The Pointer contacted family members who confirmed the uncle passed away in late September and that there was a funeral service held in India, but none knew of a memorial service held in Seattle, where Khera’s cousin, the daughter of her uncle, lives. They did say it’s common to pay respects to family members but it leaves questions about why Khera would visit when Ontario was going into a strict province-wide lockdown with clear instructions for residents to stay home.
Her claim that the trip to pay respects to her uncle was considered “essential”, even if an informal memorial was held, does not appear to meet the definition of essential.
Travel between the United States and Canada has been frowned upon for all but essential purposes since March. A comprehensive list of essential and non-essential trips is not available, but examples provided by the Government of Canada include caring for a sick family member, haulage and logistics or students with pre-approved study permits.
The government of Ontario states only essential travel outside the province is allowed, but does not appear to provide a definition of “essential” travel.
Given the severity of the pandemic and the incredible strain currently being put on hospitals across the GTA partly due to the flouting of rules, it’s unclear why Khera felt her trip was essential.
She pleaded with Canadians to stay home after she herself contracted the novel coronavirus in the spring, and, with a background in nursing, Khera would seemingly understand the risk to her city’s fragile healthcare system.
Peel’s hospitals, according to the Region, were at or beyond capacity for both acute care and intensive care beds, before she left for Seattle.
The Pointer could not find reference to memorial services as essential, nor did Khera’s office provide evidence for her explanation that the trip was essential.
On the day she returned to Canada, Brampton reported 309 new infections, as her city continues to struggle to contain the novel coronavirus.
“Although the purpose of my travel is deemed essential given the circumstances, I have decided to step aside from my duties as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Development in an effort to ensure my choices do not distract from the important work of our government to continue battling this pandemic,” Khera wrote in the only public statement she has made about her travel.
The MP’s staff would not confirm if she is quarantining upon returning from the United States. The length of her trip means it would have been impossible to self-isolate for an appropriate period of time when she arrived in Washington.
“I have and will always continue to follow all public health guidelines,” Khera wrote in her statement. However, she will not answer questions to back up this claim.
Her now abandoned role as a parliamentary secretary makes Khera’s trip even harder to justify.
An extract from the Prime Minister’s Guide for Parliamentary Secretaries under a heading about lobbyists says MPs with greater responsibility should expect to be held to a higher standard. “As a parliamentary secretary, you are subject to increased public scrutiny and your actions reflect on the reputation of your minister and of the Government as a whole,” it says. “You must therefore set an example by satisfying the highest standards of personal conduct in fulfilling your duties as parliamentary secretary and as a Member of Parliament.”
Khera has regularly been on record imploring Canadians not to travel and to limit their interactions.
“Stay at home, I can’t stress that enough, stay at home,” she said in a March interview with CBC while sick with the virus. “Practice social and physical distancing, self-isolate if you have symptoms. We owe it to Canadians, to our frontline workers, to the most vulnerable in our communities, to our seniors, every single one of us has a part to play in planking the curve to get through this together.”
On December 22, the day before she travelled to the United States, she shared a similar message speaking to parliament and Canadians virtually. “We have all made sacrifices,” she said. “Together, as a nation, we have made it this far.”
Questions over Khera’s USA trip are not the first concerns raised over her judgement during her two terms as an MP. In 2016, the Brampton West representative accepted a seven-day trip to Tanzania from World Vision (which lobbies politicians and spent more than $5,000 on her trip to Africa) which was forbidden in her role as a parliamentary secretary, the National Post reported.
Khera’s refusal to answer questions about her Seattle trip may concern those interested in transparency. For Jermaine Chambers, the candidate nominated by the Conservative Party to square off against Khera in Brampton West next election, the loss of parliamentary influence for Brampton is most concerning.
A key issue heading into the 2019 federal election was the lack of federal funding for Brampton in a range of areas. The public and municipal politicians demanded Ottawa adequately fund Brampton. Khera has now significantly diminished the city’s power at the legislative table, after stepping down from her role as parliamentary secretary.
“This is a serious error of judgement and gives the appearance of political privilege by the MP,” Chambers wrote in a statement. “Brampton needs a strong voice in Ottawa to help us beat COVID-19.”
“MP Khera’s actions have weakened Brampton’s voice in Ottawa at this critical time. We need better representation.”
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Isaac Callan, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Pointer