An influential corporation, employing thousands of workers in a vote-rich area, is facing corruption charges. The government, fearing lost jobs from a guilty verdict could cost the ruling regime votes in the next election, repeatedly pressures the nation’s top lawyer to help the company avoid a criminal conviction. The leading attorney refuses and is subsequently ousted from this position and transferred to a less prominent role in the Cabinet.
If you think this is just another day in a corrupt third-world banana republic, then think again. This is a riveting political tale unraveling in Canada under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s watch. While it is a scandal unlikely to topple the Liberal government ahead of the upcoming federal election, the ethical transgression – another one! – could cost Mr. Sunny Ways his re-election.
Before we discuss the ramifications of this political impropriety, it’s important to answer the five Ws.
The SNC-Lavalin Affair
In 2015, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police filed corruption charges against SNC-Lavalin, a Montreal-based engineering company that maintains a workforce of approximately 9,000 people. The authorities allege that the firm bribed Muammar Gaddafi and his Libyan government to purchase influence, but further accusations suggest the company defrauded Tripoli of $129.8 million. New reports also suggest that the contractor initiated a relationship with the Gaddafi family as early as 2008 by allegedly spending $30,000 on prostitutes for the former dictator’s son during his visit to Canada.
SNC-Lavalin pleaded not guilty to these charges. Four years later, the case is still ongoing.
Prior to the House of Commons returning from winter break at the end of January, Prime Minister Trudeau announced a surprise shuffle of his Cabinet. This move saw Jody Wilson-Raybould, the first Native American woman to be Attorney General and Minister of Justice, transferred to become Minister of Veterans’ Affairs.
A week later, The Globe and Mail published a bombshell article. The newspaper claimed that Wilson-Raybould was bombarded with pressure from the Prime Minister’s Office to intervene in the case and help SNC-Lavalin avoid a criminal conviction by proposing a remediation agreement between the company and the Public Prosecution Service. Because she refused to cave to these “veiled threats,” the paper reports, she was kicked out of her important roles.
A remediation agreement, which only entered Canadian law in 2018 as part of an omnibus bill (C-74), allows companies to admit wrongdoing, pay back the illegal profits, and avoid a conviction.
Reactions, Resignations and Alternative Facts
Recently, Wilson-Raybould testified for three hours in front of the Justice Committee in the House of Commons.
She outlined “a consistent and sustained effort by many people within the government to seek to politically interfere in the exercise of prosecutorial discretion in my role as the attorney general of Canada, in an inappropriate effort to secure a deferred prosecution agreement with SNC-Lavalin.” These efforts involved “ten phone calls and ten meetings,” and Wilson-Raybould was able to list each exchange with names, times and dates.
Immediately following the hearing, Conservative leader Andrew Scheer called for the prime minister’s resignation. The head of the opposition averred that Trudeau has “lost the moral authority to govern,” and demanded the police establish an investigation into the controversy. He later accused the Liberals of spewing “alternative facts.”
Jagmeet Singh, leader of the New Democratic Party and newly-elected member of parliament, called for a public inquiry after Wilson-Raybould’s “explosive” remarks.
“Everything should be on the table, absolutely a criminal investigation is on the table … This is so serious that it requires every tool in our tool box to get to the truth because Canadians are left really, really in shock,” Singh said.
Trudeau disputed Wilson-Raybould’s recollection of events and reaffirmed his administration’s innocence.
“I strongly maintain, as I have from the beginning, that I and my staff always acted appropriately and professionally. I therefore completely disagree with the former attorney general’s characterization of events,” he told reporters in Montreal.
Aside from the prime minister refusing to submit his letter of resignation, there is plenty of uncertainty surrounding this scandal. With the federal election seven months away, polling data still unclear on public opinion, and the House of Commons about to have its March break, anything could happen. The only guarantee we have is that the public will be given a dose of Trudeauism: smug, empty talk while achieving nothing – and it will be good enough to satisfy 40% of the electorate, which is typically enough to secure power in Canada.