In the case of SNC, the PM has chosen political meddling over rule of law ~ Dave Wilkin

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The bombshell Globe & Mail report that the PMO had pressured former Justice Minister and Attorney General (AG) Jody Wilson-Raybould (Canada’s 1st Aboriginal AG) to intervene in criminal proceedings against engineering giant SNC-Lavalin (SNC) is most troubling. Here’s the story so far.

Things first got rolling with the passage of an amendment to the Canadian Criminal Code – a brand new Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA) law – buried deep within the 2018 500-page omnibus budget bill. It’s a useful prosecutor’s tool that stays criminal proceedings in exchange for other less severe remediation penalties. An important, but seldom discussed PSPC’s Integrity Regime update (still in process) followed, providing government flexibility in applying federal procurement bans.

All appeared to be on track … then the wheels started coming off; the ensuing political scandal is akin to watching a slow-moving train wreck:

Her testimony was devastating – detailed, articulate, credible – confirming 20 meetings/calls pressuring her/her staff, involving 11 senior PMO/government players. She had even warned the PM in September that a political interference line was being crossed – referencing Trudeau’s comments about the 2018 Quebec election and the PM’s Quebec riding concerns. She also exposed “veiled threats” if she didn’t bend to the PM’s wishes. More telling, she said the first thing the new AG was to be briefed on by Justice staff was, wait for it… the SNC case! The PM’s response? Denial of wrong doing, and “complete disagreement” with her testimony. He was totally outclassed by her. The 3.5-hour testimony and the PM’s response was cringeworthy.

Here is a look at the pertinent aspects of the DPA law:
The decision as to whether to offer a Remediation Agreement to a corporate accused will be made by the assigned prosecutor, subject to the Attorney General’s consent; … the prosecutor will be required to take certain factors into account when deciding whether to offer a Remediation Agreement, including….the gravity of the conduct, as well as any history of offending by the organization” and importantly The prosecutor must not consider the national economic interest, the potential effect on relations with a state other than Canada or the identity of the organization or individual involved” where an organization is charged under the Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act.

So, the well documented history of SNC criminal troubles is material. A history that includes a MUHC hospital bribery scandal, violations of Canada’s election financing laws, (largely benefiting the Federal Liberal Party) and an on-going investigation into the Jacques Cartier Bridge contract. It sure looks like the law is being appropriately applied. It just isn’t the outcome that Team Trudeau wants. Ms. Wilson-Raybould believes that is why she was shuffled aside in January; the link to Brison’s resignation being nothing more than political cover.

The PM says he’s worried about Canadian SNC job losses if they face criminal convictions. In truth, he’s far more worried about political backlash in Quebec. If job losses were so critical to him, why has he been so unresponsive to serious economic and jobs’ impacts from disastrous energy policies? What’s so odd here is that he actually has an alternative option to mitigate impacts of a possible subsequent SNC 10-year federal contract ban. The Integrity Regime changes mentioned above give his government discretion to minimize or perhaps waive it entirely. Don’t be fooled, conviction of a few bad executives no longer with the company won’t cause the company to leave or fail. The rule of law must not be held hostage to SNC threats. Sadly, the PM chose the convenient route of political meddling over rule of law.

Ms. Wilson-Raybould has stayed on the moral high ground, maintaining composure and integrity. In stark contrast, the PM is on the defensive – dodging, deflecting, denying and reacting under a constantly shifting story. This is dangerous stuff. A major lack of transparency, coupled with high levels of corporate lobbying and political meddling in our judicial system seriously erodes public trust.

Do Canadian’s accept a two-tier justice system – one for executives in too-big-to-fail politically well-connected companies, and one for the rest of us?

Justin Trudeau’s leading an open, honest government that is accountable to Canadians, lives up to the highest ethical standards ” pledge rings hollow; his vaunted image as a feminist and Indigenous people champion, shattered in a train wreck of bumbling, hypocrisy, political expediency, and scandal.

Dave Wilkin is a Professional Engineer who lives in Huntsville.

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12 Comments

  1. To be honest, while all these accusations were being made in the fall, I didn’t pay much attention. This kind of mudslinging has become so common in politics nowadays that I don’t tend to take it seriously any more. But after hearing former Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould’s testimony at the justice committee on Wednesday, I realize that there has indeed been corruption going on in Ottawa these past four or five months.

    First of all, doesn’t it seem like the new “Deferred Prosecution Agreement”, drafted after SNC-Lavalin’s trial date was already set and snuck through in an omnibus bill, was tailor made just for them? I find that disturbing.

    Also disturbing are the machinations of various government officials as they tried to pressure the former Attorney General to overrule the Director of Public Prosecution’s decision, captured in recorded phone calls.

    “There’s no solution here that doesn’t involve some interference.”

    “I think he [Prime Minister Trudeau] is gonna find a way to get it done one way or another.”

    “If Jody is nervous, we would of course line up all kinds of people to write OpEds saying that what she is doing is proper.”

    And even once the case was before the courts and government interference was clearly improper, pressure continued from the Prime Minister’s Office. The PMO’s response, when told that this interference needed to stop, was also captured in a recorded phone call. It would be bad for the party if, six months before the Quebec election, SNC-Lavalin announced that they were moving their headquarters out of Canada, Mathieu Bouchard of the PMO said. “We can have the best policy in the world, but we need to be re-elected.”

    And finally, when Jody Wilson-Raybould couldn’t be corrupted, wouldn’t bend to the will of the Prime Minister’s Office, she was shuffled out of her role as Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada and replaced by David Lametti, who has said he hasn’t ruled out a Deferred Prosecution Agreement for SNC-Lavalin.

    The Prime Minister’s Office and SNC-Lavalin are going to get their way after all.

    It seems you’re right, Dave. We do seem to have a two-tier justice system in this country: one for politically well-connected companies, and one for the rest of us. And if it weren’t for the courage and integrity of our former Attorney General, this may not have come to widespread public attention.

    I guess we’ll see in October whether Canadians are willing to accept this or not.

  2. Hugh Holland on

    There is no doubt, this case has been handled poorly by all concerned. But consider the following:
    • Timing is everything. I think you would agree that both JT and JWR must have their heads spinning trying to deal concurrently with an unusually large number of tough issues such as Trump’s bully tactics regarding NAFTA and tariffs, balancing the need for oil and gas pipeline issues with the need to protect the environment and curb climate change (without physical violence), Huawei issues, and Saudi Arabia issues, to name a few. (Note that Trump is involved in all these issues.) Then along comes SNC.
    • I think you would agree that two of the most common impediments to attracting and retaining business are uncompetitive regulations and uncompetitive taxes. Canada lacks the economies of scale to provide the services that people demand along with taxes that are competitive with the elephant to the south. But at least we can have competitive regulations.
    • The fact that Canada was in the process of changing the corruption law to put Canadian business on a more level playing field with other countries indicates there was a problem with the old law.
    • Yes, the old law is the law until it is changed, but perhaps in a more normal environment, JWR and the prosecutor could have suggested a way to slow down until the new law was sorted out. Timing is everything. Certainly, SNC has been troublesome, but now it looks like we have a prosecutor on a vindictive path to be the one to get SNC, and an AJ who feels compelled to back her up.
    • What is the greater good, taking a hard line on one case, or protecting a treasure with over 50,000 good employees? We can all speculate about the ultimate impact on SNC and Canada, but the truth is that in this volatile world, nobody knows for sure, not even SNC. Are you willing to bet money that there is zero risk of losing another flagship company? I am not.

    • To your comment about Canada being in the process of changing the law: This process started when SNC-Lavalin was charged by the RCMP in 2015. SNC-Lavalin immediately started lobbying our government for the change in order to protect themselves.

      SNC-Lavalin has a long history of using bribery to win contracts, both overseas and in Quebec. They’ve also made huge (illegal) donations to the Quebec Liberal Party and the Parti Quebecois as well as the federal Liberals in order to get public contracts. So I disagree with your suggestion that the Director of Public Prosecution and the former Attorney General are being “vindictive”. This Libya scandal was not an aberration but rather SNC-Lavalin’s modus operandi, and they need to be criminally prosecuted for that. What incentive is there for them to change their ways if they’re just given a fine and allowed to continue on their merry way?

  3. George Gilley on

    Maybe if our prime minister and his accomplices had put as much effort In convincing Quebec that the pipeline that they would not allow to go through the province was good for both Quebec and the country we might not be so ticked off with this obvious bias toward Quebec. Do Quebec politicians not realize that part of the handout they get from Ottawa comes from oil revenue ? What about all the lost jobs in the “oil patch” because our pm is too engrossed in Quebec and not the pipe line fiasco. What about some work with GM to keep more auto manufacturing in Canada
    Mr Wilkin is right. This is more about political payoffs than jobs. SNC does over 80 per cent of their revenue outside of Canada so the “potential” job loss is nowhere near government numbers
    As far as the ethics commissioner looking into this what a laugh!!!

  4. Dave Wilkins and George Gilley are right. Anti-corruption measures are put in place for a reason. The rule-of-law is essential to uphold—unless we want to go the way of the banana republics to the south. If a party or individual doesn’t like a law, then they should work to change it–not violate it and then try to coverup their violation. That is the essence of corruption.

  5. The laws and regulation changes involved here are Trudeau creations, so they are new. I certainly do think they have a roll to play in the larger public interest in the right cases. I am not a legal expert by any measure, so I may have things wrong on the law as it applies in this particular case, but I do trust our justice department and their experts to make the right legal calls. JWR is a Liberal, so if their was any bias, it should have been to support the Liberal interests… but she clearly steered clear of that dangerous path treading on obstructuon of justice, a federal crime.
    I don’t blame SNC for fighting this as hard as they are, it’s in their company’s interests clearly, and it’s their job to do so. I am sure they are just as angry as most Canadians with how the PMO and others have mismanaged the entire affair.
    To the risk question, yes there is some to the company.. my view is that the reputational damage now being done from this fiasco is far worse than any damage stemming from criminal convictions. As I said, truly financial damaging future federal contract bans are far from being a given, given PC Integrity Regime changes in play now. As for the threat of moving its HQ to the US or UK, sure they could. I doubt very much they would be any further ahead in either country. They will always be better off from a government lobbying & influence perspectuve in Canada/Quebec than either of those 2 countries, regardless of how this particular case plays out. In particular in the US, good luck seeing a midsized French-Canadian rooted engineering firm successfully lobbying any US Administration over too-big-to-fail arguements when compared to the huge existing US based engineering firms! It’s a weak bluff at best and we shouldn’t be held captive to it over rule of law.

  6. Let’s hear the whole story before judging. This was her version of events. What took her 4 months to react? If she was so upset why didn’t she go to the proper authorities? When the Attorney General position was taken away, she became vindictive and acted. She also refused to acknowledge that there was an alternative to be Considered. Her mind was made up and there was no changing it for any reason. Not really what you want in an Attorney General.

    • Pat, yes, more needs to come out. Unfortunately for the PM, its likely to get worse for him and his government. The likely-hood that JWR was lying to the house judicial committee is extremely low… bordering on zero I would say. Her testimony was highly credible, specific, and detailed and she has multiple backups. The PM’s side of the story, in total contrast, vague, shifting, and of late now entirely based on his job’s argument. That’s not at issue here. Its not even a real credible argument, as others have already pointed out. The issue is was the course of justice being interfered with, potentially obstructed, for political interests. JWR claims it was. Trudeau claims he and his team did nothing wrong, and totally disagrees with her “characterization” of the events. No specifics, facts or evidence offered. All he keeps repeating is the decision was “hers alone”, which she already knew. It was, and she made it. This is far from over.

      Characterizing her actions as you did is not accurate. She pushed back many times to numerous senior people, including to the PM himself. He and his team wouldn’t take no for an answer. She knew a ethic’s commissioner complaint would be pointless (in this case, most likely even beyond his mandate). She was the AG, the top judicial official in Government after-all. For 4 long months she was doing her job, standing firm against unrelenting political pressure, knowing the line between what was ethical and legal and what was not. The PM didn’t care, he wanted the new DPA granted to SNC, one way or another. Your point that she didn’t acknowledge an alternative to consider is just wrong. She new what it was… giving SNC the benefit of a deferred prosecution. After all, if was under her leadership this law was written and past last year. No doubt it was carefully considered, and rejected first by the PPSC Director, and then reviewed by her and the decision of the Director upheld; meaning she would not intervene and take over the case herself (that would be unprecedented in Canadian judicial history, by the way). Lastly, your point that she was vindictive then acted is wrong. She simply wanted to tell her truth, after being muzzled for weeks by solicitor-client privileges the PM held over her, during which time he spoke for her. Totally disgraceful behaviour. Saying this is not what you want in our AG is strange. What we should all want in our AG is to uphold the laws of the land, as written, not subvert them for political considerations or pressures. She is preciously what you want in your AG. She was doing her job. Sorry, your arguments don’t stand up to the facts, and certainly don’t work for me.

      As I see it, Trudeau now has only 1 good option left to save himself and his government, short of resigning. That is simply to come clean with Canadians about what really happened, apologize for creating this entire mess, accepting responsibility and prove it by real meaningful actions … no more spin. He is digging himself into a deeper and deeper hole – trying to discredit JWR, stonewall or change the channel, as if saying ‘move on, nothing to see here folks’ won’t work. Neither will hiding behind a toothless, long drawn-out ethics investigation (which will go beyond the fall election), or the Liberal controlled justice committee to get to the bottom of it.

      Most Canadians are seeing right through this PM now…

  7. George Gilley on

    It would be nice to hear the whole story but we know that our esteemed prime minister will probably not let us in on the whole story. So much for his transparency in government.
    Some brave people don’t run from a problem by resigning they continue to try and do their job
    If more of our elected representatives spoke their mind and not cave into party lines we would see more productive results.
    She was following the laws of our country not the re-election hopes of a few liberals who have not earned the right to be re-elected

  8. I am confused about the PM relaxing the solicitor-client privilege: surely she wasn’t his attorney?, and if she was, she would have waived it herself. More realistically, it must have been the confidentiality of Cabinet which was partially waived.
    .
    Now we come to Ms. Wilson-Raybould stonewalling for some 4 months. This was in her capacity as Minister of Justice (a political position, in which she was, properly or not, being a loyal Liberal). Under veiled threats and continual negative media attention, she spoke AS Attorney-General when allowed to do so by Mr. Trudeau. As Mr. Holland has correctly averred, these two positions are in direct conflict, and should be separated; better late, than never.
    .
    Finally, we have this Integrity Regime update; turning the threat of a 10-year prohibition against bidding on Canadian contracts into a “paper tiger”. If SNCL does go to court (as appears to be correct, and inevitable); and the PM intervenes with either no ban/a reduced ban on federal contracts, what will happen to a lesser company in the future?
    .
    As for the PM, only a full judicial review will suffice for Canadians at this point. If you live by the sword, you die by the sword; his sword (and Achille’s heel) being his watchword, “transparency”.

    • Rob, totally agree with you and others, including JWR, that it looks like a good time to consider separating the AG and MoJ roles. Having them combined as we now do provides way too much temptation to gain political advantage for politicians to resist, just as JT has likely done here. He is certainly not the first to meddle for political gain, but probably the most inept at pulling it off without being exposed. Its hard to imagine how this entire affair could have played out any worse for all involved. Ironically, SNC itself is also being hurt. They have taken a big public reputation hit as this story continues to dominate all media headlines in Canada. All in all, this in not good for Canada. We do need more large international companies of the SNC size; hopefully learning a valuable lesson of avoiding major legal missteps.

      Interesting to note that SNC’s big ~25% drop on January 28 2019, happened a full week and a half before the Globe story broke, and about 4 weeks before their 2018 financial YE reporting of a $1.3B loss, which was led by write-downs mostly from their Oil & Gas sector (led by Saudi & Canadian issues). Don’t know what the market knew/anticipated that drove this big drop, but since then its been pretty much sideways trading. This suggests the market is not anticipating future big losses stemming from this on-going scandal, which is really good news.

      What is also ironic for this Liberal government is that SNC is also hurting from the ongoing Canadian oil & gas/pipeline mess, and the on-going spat between the Canadian and Saudi governments. Now add in China entering the fray to try to gain some political leverage on its own Huawei legal problems, potentially putting SNC’s important work in China on nuclear energy contracts in play as a strong card in the China hand. What do all these big problematic files have in common? They all have the PM’s fingerprints all over them.

  9. Kathy Henderson on

    I seriously doubt Trudeau’s ability to (and have seen no evidence) lower the cost of living so the Middle Class can afford to live. I haven’t seen any new jobs or industry moving into Canada through Trudeau’s efforts. I haven’t seen Trudeau fulfill any of his promises to Canadians. Trudeau is out for Trudeau, not Canada and not for Canadians. Trudeau supports who he wants regardless of ethics or rules or laws. He thinks he is above the law. In any of the interviews and watching the house of commons and general question period I have yet to see Trudeau take any responsibility for anything and I have never heard Trudeau directly answer any questions. He hums and haws and tries to think of what to say. I was always told that if you told the truth you and you know what your talking about and speak like you know what’s going on then people will have confidence in you. Trudeau needs to go back to school and learn that budgets don’t just balance themselves. He was never ready to be PM of Canada, he doesn’t understand or even concern himself with the needs of Canadians. He runs rough shod over ethics, he has never paid Canadians back for his $20,000 unethical vacation and won’t answer any questions about it. The only thing Trudeau has going on is looking after Trudeau and Trudeau’s interest. I have trouble believing that there are Canadians that still support him when you take into consideration all the viewable televised evidence that he is incompetent. My child can’t dress up as Pocahontas because that is racist and hate mongering but Trudeau goes to India and insults a whole country by making a spectacle of himself and his family. He is corrupt and is corrupting our Government. I pity the next PM that will have to try and fix all that Trudeau has done because programs will have to be cut and all sorts of funding until we get our debt under control.

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