Yasmin Ratansi, the Liberal Member of Parliament (MP) for Don Valley East (in the northeast section of North York) was once recognized as the first Muslim woman to be elected to the House of Commons in 2004. However, she recently resigned from caucus after allegedly employing her sister, Zeenat Khatri, using public funds. She was said to have previously employed her sister from 2005 to 2011, and during those years, it was not against the law to hire siblings as constituency assistants. However, she hired her sister again in 2017. This was against parliamentary laws because, in 2012, the House of Commons Board of Internal Economy ruled that no immediate family, including siblings, could be hired by an MP.
Ratansi, who has served in the House of Commons for nearly 12 years now, also had her own budget as MPs are allowed to pay their constituency assistants a salary of up to $89,700 a year. Over the three years of Khatri’s employment, Ratansi could have paid Khatri a salary of about $269,100 consisting of public funds.
Furthermore, Ratansi and Khatri both took actions to conceal Khatri’s identity and cover up the family connection they had. Khatri was introduced to coworkers as “Jenny,” a name she hadn’t used before in the office. Former employees claimed to have seen Khatri hide in spare offices if members of the public were coming, in case someone would recognize her as Ratansi’s sister. Khatri ensured she wasn’t photographed at public events unless she was present as a family member of Ratansi. The staff who knew about Khatri’s real identity were told to keep quiet. Some staff was even left unknowing of their familial connection.
As one former staffer stated, “You might not like it, but you’re bound to sort of keep that secret, or else. We were forced to, as staff members, to basically be complicit in unethical behaviour… it hurts to basically choke that down and not say anything.”
Employees questioned Ratansi’s integrity, and even the Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, voiced his disappointment. Mark Holland, the chief government whip, also criticized her heavily for not only breaking laws, employing her sister, and misusing public funds to pay her, but also for being highly dishonest in keeping the secret. He said it was troubling that she went to such lengths to cover up her sister’s employment because it suggested a guilty mind and an attempt to keep information from constituents and voters.
He stated, “Once there is an attempt to cover it up, then it makes it pretty clear that even the person doing the hiring realizes there’s something fishy here. If these allegations are true, it’s a disturbing picture of abuse of power, of a misuse of a position that involves trust and public resources.”
Both Holland and Prime Minister Trudeau also emphasized the importance of upholding the House rules. According to them, although the accountability systems and processes are rigorous, it’s a problem that this situation slipped through.
Yasmin Ratansi addressed her departure publicly on 9 November 2020 on Facebook, stating “I made an error in judgment by employing my sister in my constituency office, and I have remedied the situation, but this does not excuse the error I made.”