Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s failed attempt to pressure ex-attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to defer SNC-Lavalin’s prosecution for bribery and corruption charges violated the Conflict of Interest Act, says Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion.
“The evidence showed that SNC-Lavalin had significant financial interests in deferring prosecution. These interests would likely have been furthered had Mr. Trudeau successfully influenced the Attorney General to intervene,” writes Dion in Trudeau II Report released on Wednesday.
“Mr. Trudeau used his position of authority over Ms. Wilson?Raybould to seek to influence, both directly and indirectly, her decision on whether she should overrule the Director of Public Prosecutions’ decision not to invite SNC-Lavalin to enter into negotiations towards a remediation agreement.”
“Therefore, I find that Mr. Trudeau contravened section 9 of the Act.”
Section 9 “prohibits public office holders from using their position to seek to influence a decision of another person so as to further their own private interests or those of their relatives or friends, or to improperly further another person’s private interests. “
SNC-Lavalin and two of its subsidiaries stand accused of paying $48-million in bribes to Libyan officials to win contracts there between 2001 and 2011.
If convicted, the company faces a 10-year ban on bidding for federal contracts, while a deferred prosecution agreement—a new criminal code provision slipped into 2018’s budget bill—would allow fines and corporate accountability undertakings to supplant a criminal prosecution.
As Dion’s report notes, after charges were laid against the Québec engineering firm on February 19, 2015, SNC-Lavalin began its own engagements with elected officials a year later, just four months after the Liberals won their majority government.
On February 2, 2016, company officials met to discuss “justice and law enforcement” with Francois-Philippe Champagne, then-parliamentary secretary to Finance Minister Bill Morneau.
Later that same month, amidst similar “justice and law” discussions with the Prime Minister’s Office, SNC-Lavalin would meet with Morneau’s senior policy adviser Robert Asselin.
From there, SNC-Lavalin’s lobbying proliferated to include Foreign Affairs, Economic Development the Privy Council, Public Safety, Treasury Board and even the Environment ministry.
Beginning at the outset of 2017, nearly 20 meetings are recorded that occurred between SNC-Lavalin and the PMO to discuss “justice and law enforcement”. In September 2017, the government began consultation on deferred prosecution agreements and in March of 2018, the provision was included in a 582-page budget bill.
The SNC-Lavalin matter has beset Trudeau’s government since a February 7, 2019 Globe and Mail story reported that Wilson-Raybould was replaced as Justice minister for refusing to defer SNC-Lavalin’s charges.
Dion’s report vindicates Wilson-Raybould and corroborates her explosive testimony to the Justice Committee that convened in February to investigate allegations reported in the Globe; a story that Trudeau described as untrue.
During her committee appearance, Wilson-Raybould implicated key figures in Trudeau’s PMO and the PM himself for pressuring her, even suggesting it was crucial for election success; particularly Québec’s provincial election the Liberals lost in October 2018, and the looming federal election this year.
After Trudeau denied Wilson-Raybould’s version of events, she responded by releasing a recorded telephone call between her and ex-Privy Council clerk Michael Wernick — then the country’s top bureaucrat.
In the tense 17-minute conversation between the pair, Wilson-Raybould lays out the ramifications of acquiescing to Trudeau.
“I have a tool under the prosecution act I can use, I do not believe it is appropriate to use it in this case,” says Wilson-Raybould.
Wernick: “OK. Alright. That’s clear. Well, he’s in a very firm mood about this so um….”
Wilson-Raybould: “Does [Prime Minister Trudeau] understand the gravity of what this potentially could mean. This is not just about saving jobs, this is about interfering with one of our fundamental institutions. This is like breaching a constitutional principle of prosecutorial independence.”
Wernick: “I don’t think he sees it as that.”
Wilson-Raybould: “Well then nobody’s explaining that to him Michael!”
On Wednesday, Dion explained it in black-and-white, to the prime minister and all Canadians:
Mr. Trudeau used his position of authority over Ms. Wilson-Raybould to seek to influence her decision…not to invite SNC-Lavalin to enter into negotiations towards a remediation agreement,” writes Dion. “Because SNC?Lavalin overwhelmingly stood to benefit from Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s intervention, I have no doubt that the result of Mr. Trudeau’s influence would have furthered SNC-Lavalin’s interests. The actions that sought to further these interests were improper since the actions were contrary to the constitutional principles of prosecutorial independence and the rule of law.Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion in his report
As the SNC-Lavalin scandal intensified through February and March, Wilson-Raybould would resign from Trudeau’s cabinet on February 12, followed by the PM’s principal secretary Gerald Butts—whose own testimony contradicted Wilson-Raybould—on February 18.
A month later, Wernick announced he would step down, claiming to have lost “mutual trust and respect” from opposition parties.
Two weeks later, Trudeau turfed Wilson-Raybould from the Liberal caucus, along with ex-Treasury Board President Jane Philpott. Either woman had expressed they had lost confidence in the prime minister and cabinet over the imbroglio.
Wilson-Raybould would directly implicate Morneau and his senior staffers, as well as Trudeau’s Chief of Staff Katie Telford as cohorts in PMO’s full-court SNC-Lavalin press, a series of events Dion’s report also chronicles. But Dion declines to ascribe culpability beyond the prime minister.
In my view, the individuals who acted under the direction or authority of the Prime Minister in this matter, as well as those who were involved in this matter on behalf of other ministers, could not have influenced the Attorney General simply by virtue of their position. Consequently, I do not have reasonable grounds to pursue concurrent examinations of their conduct, nor do I have reason to believe that they may have breached another substantive rule under the Act. They acted in accordance with the general direction set by Mr. Trudeau. Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion in his report
Liberal-dominated Justice and Ethics committees ultimately quashed opposition motions to expand probes into the scandal, and Dion cites similar pushback from Privy Council Office that limited his own investigation.
“Because of the decisions to deny our Office further access to Cabinet confidences, witnesses were constrained in their ability to provide all evidence. I was, therefore, prevented from looking over the entire body of evidence to determine its relevance to my examination,” writes Dion.
“If our Office is to remain truly independent and fulfill its purpose, I must have unfettered access to all information that could be relevant to the exercise of my mandate.”
While it’s been reported that this is Trudeau’s second violation of the Conflict of Interest Act (another report claims it’s his 6th), TPM counts three: his first being in December 2017 when then-then-commissioner Mary Dawson ruled the PM’s free family trips to Aga Khan’s private Bahamas island.
In June of 2018, Dion fined Trudeau $100 for failing to declare designer sunglasses he was gifted by Prince Edward Island Premier Wade MacLauchlan during a visit to the province the year before.