So, how serious are the allegations that the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) pressured the Attorney General to give SNC Lavalin a sweetheart deal?
Did the PMO pressure Jody Wilson-Raybould to overturn the decision already made by government lawyers?
If true, it’s the equivalent of DEFCON 1 in the political world.
It could be grounds for the resignation of not only the praetorian guards who surround the Prime Minister, but also Justin Trudeau himself.
What we do know is that the Ethics Commissioner has now launched a probe to get to the bottom of this mess. Even Wayne Long, a Liberal Member of Parliament from New Brunswick has joined the opposition parties in asking for a full investigation.
It is also worth noting that the former Attorney General of Ontario (who happens to be a Liberal) recently said, “The Globe investigation may have already triggered a criminal investigation into allegations that PMO officials committed obstruction of justice and breach of trust under the Criminal Code. This story has all the hallmarks of a corrupt police state. If true, it confirms the public’s worst fears about the justice system. That it’s about who you know, in the PMO, not what you did.”
When a former provincial Attorney General says something like this, it should stop even the casual political watcher to take notice. As the adage goes, “where there is smoke there is fire”, so let’s rewind and find out how we got here.
SNC Lavalin is a multi billion-dollar company who is involved in engineering and construction projects around the world.
After an extensive RCMP investigation, SNC Lavalin was accused of bribing Libya’s “Brotherly Leader” Muammar Gaddafi’s son in order to land projects in the north African country.
According to news reports, SNC Lavalin funnelled millions to Gaddafi’s son, renovated his penthouse, and helped arrange his escape out of the country using false documents during the uprising that dethroned the “Brotherly Leader.”
In February 2015, the RCMP charged SNC Lavalin with corruption and fraud.
Later that year, the Conservatives lost government and the Trudeau government, and their self-declared sunny and transparent ways were ushered into office.
At that time, PM Trudeau appointed Jody Wilson-Raybould as Canada’s Minister of Justice and Attorney General (the government’s top lawyer for lack of a better phrase).
Throughout all this, SNC Lavalin was preparing their defence against the serious allegations of the RCMP. If found guilty, they would be barred for many years from bidding on construction contracts and therefore be in a world of financial trouble.
Then, like magic, the Liberals presented in their 500-page 2018 omnibus Budget Implementation Act, reminiscent of the ones they swore up and down they would never do, contained clauses to bring in “deferred prosecution agreements”.
In layman’s terms, it would allow companies such as SNC Lavalin to be fined if found guilty, but would not impact their ability to bid on future construction contracts.
Now why would this be tucked away in a Budget Implementation Act rather than its own stand-alone bill? When you have hundreds of clauses in a bill as large as their Budget Implementation Act and only a couple of committee meetings to go through it, the time to debate or do a thorough analysis is limited.
Even a Liberal Member of Parliament who sits on the Finance Committee didn’t know these changes were in the Budget Implementation Act. It wasn’t until a Justice Department official raised it during their committee appearance did it get any attention.
Greg Fergus, a Liberal Member of Parliament, said at the time that the change looked like it was crafted in such a manner so as to give those implicated in white-collar crimes "a little slap on the wrist." He further went on to say, "It seems we're letting those with the means have an easier time of it than those who don't have the means."
If we apply Occam’s Razor (the principle that all things being equal, the simplest explanation is usually the correct one), there is no doubt why deferred prosecution agreements were put into the Liberal’s Budget Implementation Act and brought into force.
For those who enjoy watching BBC’s Yes Minister, Sir Humphrey Appleby would have given his stamp of approval on the language used to sell deferred prosecution agreements to the public. According to a Government of Canada press release, this new power of only fining companies in criminal code matters amounted to expanding the “toolkit available to prosecutors to address corporate wrongdoing.”
This brings us to the public reports of why SNC Lavalin’s lobbyists were busy meeting with people from all political parties, but most notably, the Prime Minister’s Office on dozens of occasions.
To make it crystal clear, lobbying isn’t the problem. The details are made publicly available, and companies, organizations and associations large and small lobby the federal government.
According to what has been made public, SNC Lavalin’s lobbyist was doing their job and trying to articulate why they thought they should be given a deferred prosecution.
It is important to outline the distinction of the division of powers in Parliament and government. Members of Parliament don’t have the power to determine who gets a deferred prosecution. It is self evident why that would be a terrible idea.
Only the Attorney General has the ability to impact that decision. And if they do, there is a process that needs to be followed and made public.
Since the bombshell allegations made by the Globe and Mail, there has been a lot of renewed interest of deferred prosecution agreements.
What is being alleged is that Justin Trudeau’s PMO wanted the Justice Minister and Attorney General to give SNC Lavalin the deferred prosecution agreement they were asking for.
We don’t know who the main instigator from the PMO was. Was it Gerald Butts? Katie Telford? Or maybe Justin Trudeau himself? Hence is why Parliament’s Justice Committee will debate a motion this Wednesday to invite about a dozen people and launch an investigation.
Here’s why we need the investigation.
The Globe and Mail never said that the Prime Minister directed his then Attorney General to give a deferred prosecution to SNC Lavalin but that’s what he denied all day Thursday.
Then they changed the language and said no pressure was applied. Then they said they did talk about it but that was it. And now, they are anonymously saying that Jody Wilson-Raybould was difficult to deal with as a Cabinet Minister and that she was only in it for herself.
What makes this Globe and Mail story so believable are the factors that led up to this point.
Now that there was a legal way for SNC Lavalin to sidestep from a decade-long ban on construction projects, the next decision point is where things got strange.
The Prime Minister had to shuffle his cabinet because Scott Brison wanted out. He resigned his position as President of the Treasury Board and announced he would no longer serve as the Member of Parliament for Kings-Hants.
While Mr. Brison cited “family reasons” for his retirement, some are claiming the Mark Norman case was at the root of his speedy exit. It is only a matter of time before that criminal trial is front-page news.
On that cold January day at Rideau Hall, many were surprised to see Jody Wilson-Raybould being shuffled out of Justice and sent to Veterans Affairs. One only had to observe the lack of enthusiasm on her face to know something that was amiss when she took the oath under the careful watch of the Prime Minister.
Many were surprised that she got shuffled out for no apparent reason at all. There had to be a reason. Something more to the story.
A statement released on her Facebook page highlighted the oddity of the situation.
She stated that many had asked why she was removed, but she wouldn’t be talking about the motive of the Prime Minister’s decision. Then her next couple of paragraphs get interesting. She said, “The role of the Attorney General of Canada carries with it unique responsibilities to uphold the law and the administration of justice, and as such demands a measure of principled independence”.
To ensure people knew exactly how she served while in that role, she went further and said, “It is a pillar of our democracy that our justice system be free from even the perception of political interference and uphold the highest levels of public confidence.”
In hindsight, we now know what she was alluding to. This was her way of letting those who tried to influence her know that she was not going to sacrifice her principles. She had no regrets. She wasn’t going to blindly carry out orders for political expediency.
The mere fact that a Minister of the Crown put out such a statement is testament that the Globe and Mail’s story must be onto something.
Since Thursday, the PMO, the new Minister of Justice and Liberal commentators have said that the story is false. There is no evidence for an investigation. Move along - nothing to see here. This is just the Globe and Mail trying to string together a story that isn’t true.
The newly appointed Justice Minister David Lametti, who now has to deal with this mess, made the proclamation that there wasn’t enough substance for a Parliamentary inquiry. While he may be the new Attorney General, certainly shouldn’t presume to take on the role of judge, jury and executioner.
If what Globe and Mail’s journalist Bob Fife reports to be true, not only is there enough evidence to warrant an investigation, but this could be the beginning of the end of the Trudeau government.
To add even more fuel to the fire, Bob Fife said on national TV that when Jody Wilson-Raybould declined to carry out the wishes of the PMO, she sent back word that Justin Trudeau should personally make that call to request it himself.
This issue is not going anywhere anytime soon.
In all likelihood, the Liberals will ensure that no parliamentary investigation ever transpires. Don’t believe those who say the Liberal MPs on the Justice Committee are free to make up their own minds. Everything will have been decided long before the meeting commences.
As for further whistle-blowers, we don’t know who else might speak up and provide more evidence. Those who could, are fully aware that coming forward could damage their chances of winning the upcoming election and therefore put them out of a job.
And let’s not forget that Jody Wilson-Raybould is still sitting in cabinet, but for how long? She says she cannot confirm or deny nor speak on any aspect of the story due to solicitor client privilege.
The accusation of political interference in a criminal matter is to be taken seriously. If the PMO or Justin Trudeau himself is found to have inappropriately tried to apply pressure, he will either have to show himself the door, or the voters of Canada might do it for him.
In Canada we have the rule of law. It applies to everyone equally and must be upheld always. Even a whiff of an abuse of power must be fully investigated.
In the days ahead, we will find out if the Liberals care about revealing the truth. It is up to those Liberal MPs who sit on the Justice Committee to decide for themselves if they will serve the greater good of the country, and to let the chips fall where they may.
All I know is this, Canadians can smell a farce from a mile away and they will be the final judge on the performance of the Liberal government this fall.