The Conservatives sent a letter to the Speaker of the House of Commons today demanding that action be taken against now-Independent MP Yasmin Ratansi for employing her sister for years in contravention of parliamentary rules.
Ratansi, a longtime MP who represents Don Valley East, announced on Facebook late Monday night she was leaving the Liberal caucus after learning CBC News would be publishing a story revealing that she had employed her sister as her constituency assistant since 2017, and that former employees claimed she tried to cover it up.
Several former staffers claim Ratansi told employees to call her sister, Zeenat Khatri, by a different name — "Jenny." Those employees also said they saw Khatri hide under her desk or in another room when people came into the office who might recognize her. Staff also were told not to photograph her sister at events, the former employees claim.
"This is just another example in a long line of arrogant and entitled behaviour by Liberals, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau leading by example," wrote the Conservatives' ethics critic, Michael Barrett, in the letter to Speaker Anthony Rota today.
"Ms. Ratansi knew it was wrong to employ her sister with taxpayer dollars, yet she went to great lengths to cover up this information. Canadians deserve better from their elected leaders."
Barrett asked Rota to bring the case to the Board of Internal Economy (BOIE), the body that governs the administration and finances of the House of Commons. The party said it wants to see "appropriate remedial measures" taken. Earlier in the week, the Conservatives also called for Ratansi's immediate resignation.
Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc is a member of the BOIE. He told Vassy Kapelos, host of the CBC's Power and Politics, that the BOIE was not previously aware that Ratansi had her sister on the payroll.
"No, of course we didn't know, or the Board of Internal Economy would have corrected that," said LeBlanc. "If the House administration had known that, they would have obviously put an end to it."
LeBlanc said if House administration decides to recommend remedial steps "that are appropriate, we would of course support that."
"Anybody who misuses taxpayers money in a way that doesn't follow the clear rules that everyone understood, or should have understood, should be held accountable," he said.
WATCH | LeBlanc says 'anybody who misuses taxpayers money...should be held accountable'
In a Facebook post now deleted from Ratansi's account, the MP said she reported the case to the ethics commissioner last week. That move came after Ratansi learned CBC News was investigating the story.
Federal Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion confirmed today he has written a "letter of concern" to Ratansi giving her 30 days to respond.
Video shows Ratansi calling Khatri 'my adopted sister'
A member of the public, meanwhile, flagged to CBC News a new video of Ratansi talking about the case.
Last Wednesday, while chairing the Standing Committee on the Environment, Ratansi's microphone accidentally went off mute while she was taking a call about the matter involving her sister. She is seen leaning over, off camera, and saying, "Hi, listen, Zeenat is my adopted sister, actually."
WATCH | Ratansi refers to Khatri as 'my adopted sister':
The video also shows Conservative MP Brad Redekopp, who was in the middle of talking at the time, saying, "Hello," shortly after being interrupted. That prompted Ratansi to pop back up and stop talking.
CBC News asked Ratansi for a comment on Sunday about the allegations. More than four days later, CBC has still not received a response to the claims, despite repeated requests.
In the Facebook post that has since been pulled down, Ratansi apologized for hiring her sister.
"To the constituents of Don Valley East and to anyone I may have disappointed by my error of judgment, I take full responsibility, and to all I do apologize," Ratansi wrote on her Facebook page at 9:38 p.m. on Monday.
CBC News reported her sister worked as her constituency assistant from 2005-2011 and from 2017 to present, according to multiple former employees. As of 2012, it was against MPs' bylaws to employ immediate family members, including a sibling.
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.
Claims of also ignoring immigration files
Ratansi is also facing claims she told staff to stop working on South Asian constituents' immigration and family reunification cases because she felt they were "untrustworthy" or suggested they "lied" because of their ethnicity.
CBC News agreed to protect the identities of the sources, who say they fear harm to their careers and retaliation from Ratansi herself after speaking out.
Former staff claim they heard Ratansi direct "at lot of vitriol" at certain ethnic and religious groups.
WATCH | Former employee describes offensive comments allegedly made by MP:
The former employees CBC News spoke to also claim Ratansi created a "toxic and verbally abusive environment" in the office. The sources claim Ratansi publicly yelled at staff about their work and called people "stupid" for simple mistakes, such as leaving paperwork in the printer or taking photos she didn't like.
The government's chief whip, Mark Holland, said Monday night his "understanding is Ms. Ratansi is disputing" the allegations about her statements and treatment of staff.
Now that Ratansi is an Independent MP, he said, it's up to the House of Commons' chief human resources officer to "adjudicate" the matter. Holland encouraged employees to report their complaints formally.