The SNC-Lavalin affair, key players and core questions: an explainer
|CTVnews 15 Feb 2019 at 10:26|
OTTAWA -- The SNC-Lavalin affair has continued to play out and evolve over the last week, here s CTVNews.cas comprehensive explainer about every aspect of this story, from what has transpired so far, to who the key players are and what they ve been saying.
What is alleged to have happened?
The Globe and Mail has reported that the Prime Minister s Office pressured Jody Wilson-Raybould who was the attorney general at the time t in the corruption and fraud case against SNC-Lavalin. The newspaper reportedciting sources speaking on condition of anonymity that Wilson-Raybould was leaned on to have federal prosecutors pursue a remediation agreement rather than criminal prosecution, but she was unwilling. CTV News has not independently verified the story.
Remediation agreements or Deferred Prosecution Agreements (DPAs) can include having the company accept responsibility, denounce the wrongdoing, vow to implement corrective measures, and pay financial penalties.
In contrast, if the company was criminally convicted they d be banned from securing Canadian government contracts for a decade, potentially putting jobs on the line.
What could be wrong with that?
The attorney general of Canada has the ability to become involved in such cases by instructing federal prosecutors to pursue a remediation agreement.
If she had instructed the Public Prosecution Service an independent federal prosecuting body created in 2006 on this case, it would have had to be made public and posted on the Canada Gazette, which the government considers its "official newspaper." In reality it is where new statutes and proposed regulations and decisions are published.
What is SNC-Lavalin?
Who is Jody Wilson-Raybould?
Jody Wilson-Raybould is a member of Parliament who represents the riding of Vancouver-Granville, B.C. She was first elected in 2015, but prior to that was a crown prosecutor and regional chief. When Trudeau named his first cabinet she became justice minister and attorney general, making history as the first Indigenous person to hold that position. She remained in that portfolio until January, when she was shuffled into veterans affairs. She announced on Tuesday that shed be resigning cabinet. She is still listed as a Liberal MP.
What are the details of case at the centre of this?
The SNC-Lavalin case that Wilson-Raybould was allegedly pushed towards resolving without a criminal prosecution, stems from an RCMP investigation that resulted in charges of fraud and corruption in 2015. SNC-Lavalin and two subsidiaries are alleged to have paid nearly $48 million in bribes to public officials to influence government decisions between 2001 and 2011.
In relation to these fraud and corruption charges, SNC-Lavalin has lobbied the government and parliamentarians on all sides, in favour of a DPA as their desired way to settle the case. The option to pursue a DPA was a newly-passed mechanism tucked into a budget bill, more on that below.
Despite SNC-Lavalin s lobbying efforts, the federal director of public prosecutions and last week asked the court to throw out a plea from SNC-Lavalin to spare the criminal proceedings.
The case is currently before a Montreal court, and as it is ongoing the government has cited concerns about this controversy having the potential to interfere with the proceedings.
What was passed in a budget bill?
The creation of remediation agreements in Canada came through an amendment to the Criminal Code passed as part of an omnibus budget bill in 2018 with little fanfare.
At the time, the House Justice Committee spent one meeting looking at the section of the budget bill that proposed this new mechanism. It was referred to that committee, on the suggestion of MPs who were studying the entirety of the 850-page bill. The Senate did look at it as well.
Chair of the House Justice Committee Anthony Housefather said then that "one meeting will suffice."
After hearing from a senior official in the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and one from the Department of Justice, the committee unanimously meaning Conservative and NDP members too recommended no changes. You can read the entire transcript of the evidence the committee heard on this issue, here.
What has the Prime Minister and his office said?
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has denied the Globe report, calling it "false." He has said that "the government of Canada did its job," in this case and followed the rules.
He s said that that if any member of the government felt differently they had an obligation to raise that with him, and no one did, Wilson-Raybould included. "She said nothing of that to me," Trudeau said this week during the press conference in which he stated he was both surprised and disappointed by Wilson-Raybould s decision to step down," because her resignation was "not consistent" with their recent conversations.
Trudeau has also faced questions over how this entire affair impacts two of the key tenets of his government: reconciliation with Indigenous people and leading a feminist government. These questions came after various Indigenous groups criticized how Trudeau and his office have treated Wilson-Raybould.
Citing that quoted unnamed government sources about Wilson-Raybould being "difficult to get along with," the group called it an "attempt to save face and initiate damage control about the purported wrongdoings of your office by attacking and discrediting a prominent Indigenous woman." His office has since condemned these comments.
Further, on Friday Trudeau offered a new explanation . Had Scott Brison not stepped down as Treasury Board President, "Jody Wilson-Raybould would still be minister of justice and attorney general." Though, he did not explain how the domino effect that led to her shuffle transpired.
What has Jody Wilson-Raybould said?
To date, Wilson-Raybould has said that, as the former AG, she is "bound by solicitor-client privilege in this matter," and has not commented to either confirm or deny reports she was pressured.
as Veterans Affairs Minister Wilson-Raybould said she has retained former Supreme Court judge Thomas Cromwell to provide advice on speaking publicly about the scandal.
"I am aware that many Canadians wish for me [to] speak on matters that have been in the media over the last week. I am in the process of obtaining advice on the topics that I am legally permitted to discuss," Wilson-Raybould said in the letter.
What are the opposition parties saying?
In short, a lot. Generally, they are vowing to not let up on this issue until they get answers, using whichever tools or legal avenues at their disposal.
In regards to the committee study plan, Conservatives on the committee called it a "cover up," and sought to implore that the matter was above politics, though they did substitute some of their caucus strongest critical voices to attend the meeting instead of their regular members, which rubbed the Liberals the wrong way.
The New Democrats have been highly critical of the government for working in the interest of the wealthy over the interest of law-abiding Canadians in general, and they have said that this case is just another example of that. The NDP are also calling on Trudeau to waive solicitor-client privilege.
In regards to the committee study, NDP MP Nathan Cullen described it as a "study group, a book club to look at sorts of interesting ideas about the law, rather than the scandal that s right in front of Canadians."
It was the NDP that sought the ethics investigation now underway.
What are Liberals saying?
At committee on Wednesday, Liberal MP Randy Boissonnault accused the opposition of trying to launch a political "witch hunt."
After being named as Wilson-Raybould s acting replacement as veterans affairs minister, Harjit Sajjan thanked Wilson-Raybould in a tweet for her work in the role and said it is a "privilege" for him to take on the responsibility of serving Canadian veterans.
After Trudeau offered his "surprised and disappointed" remarks, minister Jane Philpott tweeted that Wilson-Raybould "taught me so much - particularly about Indigenous history, rights and justice," citing some of the key pieces of legislation they have worked on together." I know you will continue to serve Canadians," she said.
"I think it s important that we respect Jody Wilson-Raybould s decision my view is that she s going to be someone who can continue to add value," Finance Minister Bill Morneau said on Thursday at an event where he was joined by Labour Minister Patty Hajdu. Hajdu called Wilson-Raybould a "valuable team member," and she looks forward to seeing her next week in the House.
What is the House Justice Committee doing?
On Wednesday the House Justice and Human Rights Committee held an emergency meeting to discuss the prospect of studying the ongoing SNC-Lavalin affair and alleged PMO political interference. The meeting was forced by the opposition members on the committee who sought to pass a motion to dig deep into the case, and request that several key witnesses including high-ranking members of the PMO testify.
What ended up happening is the Liberal members used their majority standing on the committee to supersede that motion with a limited proposal of their own. So, instead of requesting Wilson-Raybould, Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister Gerald Butts, Senior Advisor to the Prime Minister Mathieu Bouchard and others to appear, the committee will be asking for current Justice Minister David Lametti, his deputy minister at Justice Canada, and Clerk of the Privy Council Michael Wernick to appear.
That motion will see the committee more broadly study the topics at the heart of the affair: remediation agreements, the Shawcross doctrine which has to do with the independence of the attorney general in making decisions and the discussions between the AG and government colleagues on SNC-Lavalin.
It also states that the next meeting on Feb. 19 will happen in-camera to discuss potential other witnesses, the timeline for the meetings, and the potential impact on ongoing court proceedings of this probe.
What is the ethics commissioner looking into?
Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mario Dions office announced on Monday that because he has "reason to believe that a possible contravention" of the Conflict of Interest Act has occurred, specifically regarding a public office holder seeking to improperly influence a decision of another person.
In the letter to the two NDP MPs who requested the probe, Nathan Cullen and Charlie Angus, Dion said that thought it was a possible contravention of Section 9 may have taken place. "Section 9 prohibits a public office holder from seeking to influence a decision of another person so as to improperly further another person s private interest. As a result, I have initiated an examination and have so informed Mr. Trudeau," Dion wrote.
His examination will include allowing the public office holder in question in this case Trudeau, and possibly Wilson-Raybould as well to present the details of the situation from their side, and, if needed, summoning witnesses and compelling them to provide evidence.