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:
- Last October the Director of Prosecution Services of Canada (PPSC), Kathleen Roussel rejected SNC’s request to negotiate a deferred prosecution (under the DPA) with the subsequent AG’s support and decision to not intervene.
- In January, the PM shuffles Ms. Wilson-Raybould over to Veterans Affairs (VA), claiming it’s not a demotion.
- The Globe story breaks, the PM responds, calling the story “false”, stating he didn’t “direct” her.
- The new AG (Lametti) states he hasn’t “ruled out deferred prosecution for SNC”
- Personal character attacks against Ms. Wilson-Rayboyld surface, reportedly leaked by a handful of anonymous Liberal Party sources (aka. ‘political hacks’), prompting a PM apology a week later.
- Wilson-Raybould resigns from cabinet, followed shortly after by the PMO principal secretary Butts resignation.
- Trudeau claims Treasury Board President Scott Brison’s resignation as the reason for her shift to VA.
- Privy Council Clerk Wernick testifies no “inappropriate pressure” occurred.
- Heavy SNC lobbying revealed, with claims of serious consequences if prosecution occurs.
- Trudeau partially waives solicitor-client privilege, freeing Ms. Wilson-Raybould to “speak my truth”.
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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