By: Michelle Allan
If you have been following the news, you have likely become engrossed in the drama of the SNC Lavalin case. If you haven’t been following closely, you are (understandably) confused. Here’s a quick summary of the real-time Canadian legal thriller.
For the uninitiated, SNC Lavalin is a Montreal-based engineering and construction company. While conducting business in Libya during 2001 to 2011, they allegedly offered $47.7 million worth of bribes to public officials and defrauded approximately $129.8 million from various Libyan public agencies. The RCMP subsequently charged SNC Lavalin with corruption and bribery in 2015.
SNC Lavalin has been attempting to avoid criminal prosecution by reaching a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA). While they won’t be charged as criminally guilty, SNC Lavalin would have to pay a fine and admit to wrongdoing. It is in SNC Lavalin’s best interest to pursue a DPA instead of fighting in court because they will be barred from government contracts for 10 years if found guilty, resulting in billions of dollars in lost revenue and possible layoffs or company collapse.
SNC has had 80 federal lobbyist meetings (10 between high level ministries, ministers, and PMO) over the past 12 months. Listed topics include “justice” and “law enforcement”. SNC Lavalin had lobbied the government to introduce DPAs, and was been proven in court to have previously made illegal political donations. During 2004 to 2011, SNC Lavalin illegally donated $110,000 to the Liberals and $8,000 to the Conservatives.
The Canadian government released a report that supports DPAs in Feb 2018. DPAs were added to the criminal code in September 2018 when the Liberals added the clause onto the 2018 582 page budget bill. SNC Lavalin took out full page ads in 4 major newspapers in support of the change.
In October 2018, the public prosecutors of the SNC Lavalin trial refuse to pursue a DPA. SNC Lavalin requests a judicial review of their decision.
Allegedly, senior members of the Prime Minister’s Office then pressured former minister of justice and former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to tell the public prosecutors on the SNC case to pursue a DPA. She allegedly said no. Wilson-Raybould was moved from Justice Minister to Minister of Veteran Affairs in a January 2019 cabinet shuffle. In a January 14th statement, Wilson-Raybould said she was proud of speaking “truth to power” while serving as Justice Minister. Trudeau and his advisors claim that he never directed or influenced Wilson-Raybould. She resigned as Minister of Veteran Affairs in February 2019 and has retained legal counsel.
Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, Gerald Butts, resigned February 18th. Butts was lobbied by SNC Lavalin and denies allegations he or anyone in the Prime Minister’s office pressured Wilson-Raybould.
Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner launched an investigation into the Prime Minister’s Office’s alleged interference in SNC-Lavalin case this February. The Conservatives and NDP have pushed for an emergency Justice Committee meeting to subpoena witnesses to testify on the issue. As a majority on the committee, the Liberals have attempted to block these motions.
Butts denied Wilson-Raybould’s allegations during his testimony on February 6th, stating that the Prime Minister’s Office had not attempted to pressure her to negotiate a DPA. Butts also denied that Wilson-Raybould was removed from cabinet because she refused to pursue a DPA. However, Butts stated that some people in government suggested Wilson-Raybould seek outside legal council in consideration of an DPA because “9000” SNC Lavalin jobs were “at stake”.
Over the coming weeks, witnesses will continue to provide evidence for justice committee, but the Liberal majority on the committee may block witnesses and prevent further testimony.
The Liberal party is caught between a rock and hard place: They can quash the complaints but face backlash for silencing those accusing them of corruption, or they can allow their alleged corruption to be brought to light and accept the repercussions. Regardless of how they chose to proceed, the scandal could cost the Liberals the upcoming election.