For the second time in less than two years, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was found to have broken conflict of interest laws.
This time, over the SNC-Lavalin scandal.
In his Aug. 14 report, Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion found evidence of four attempts to influence Jody Wilson-Raybould while she was attorney general, in a bid to overturn the decision to prosecute SNC-Lavalin for bribery and corruption.
“I find that Mr. Trudeau used his position of authority over Ms. Wilson-Raybould to seek to influence 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,” Dion wrote. “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.”
Dion wrote that evidence showed it was a “major surprise” when the Director of Public Prosecutions decided not to negotiate remediation with SNC-Lavalin. Various officials in the Trudeau Liberal government did not heed warnings, beginning Aug. 14, 2018, from Wilson-Raybould’s staff not to interfere politically.
Dion found four attempts to influence Wilson-Raybould, climaxing with the Dec. 19, 2018 conversation with Privy Council Clerk Michael Wernick that Wilson-Raybould recorded and released.
In February 2015, SNC-Lavalin was charged with corruption and bribery offences between 2001 and 2011. Beginning in 2016, SNC-Lavalin lobbied the Trudeau Liberals to enact a remediation law, with a view to avoiding a criminal trial. The Trudeau Liberals eventually adopted a remediation regime in 2018, but the Director of Public Prosecutions decided last September that the criminal charges would proceed against SNC-Lavalin. That sparked a flurry of activity, as the Prime Minister’s Office and the Minister of Finance’s office sought Wilson-Raybould to intervene in favour of negotiating with SNC-Lavalin.
“The evidence showed that SNC-Lavalin had significant financial interests in deferring prosecution,” Dion’s report said. “These interests would likely have been furthered had Mr. Trudeau successfully influenced the Attorney General to intervene in the Director of Public Prosecutions’ decision. The actions that sought to further these interests were improper since they were contrary to the Shawcross doctrine [about the independence of the attorney general] and the principles of prosecutorial independence and the rule of law.”
Dion’s investigation was sparked by complaints from NDP MPs Charlie Angus and Nathan Cullen in February after a bombshell scoop by the Globe and Mail about why Trudeau demoted Wilson-Raybould from Attorney General to Veterans’ Affairs. Wilson-Raybould eventually quit cabinet and was later tossed from caucus. She is running for re-election as an independent in Vancouver-Granville.
A May 2 submission to Dion from Trudeau’s lawyer denied the Prime Minister used his position to influence Wilson-Raybould. The submission claimed Trudeau acted properly, was not motivated by SNC-Lavalin and did not understand Wilson-Raybould’s perspective on the issue. He reiterated his concern for consequences for SNC-Lavalin shareholders, employees, pensioners, customers and suppliers if a conviction were to occur. Trudeau’s lawyer also claimed Wilson-Raybould failed in her duty by “reflexively” deferring to the director of public prosecutions, and alleging that Wilson-Raybould was “infected by legal misunderstanding and political motivation.”
Dion received documents from 14 witnesses and interviewed six of them. Among those listed were Finance Minister Bill Morneau, Morneau and Trudeau aide Ben Chin, Trudeau aides Gerald Butts and Katie Telford, Wernick and recently retired SNC-Lavalin CEO Neil Bruce.
Dion provided Trudeau on July 19 an opportunity to comment on the facts gathered. Trudeau began a 10-day string of “personal” days in British Columbia on July 19.
The scandal led to the retirement of clerk of the Privy Council Michael Wernick. Yet his successor, Ian Shugart, declined Dion’s request on June 13 for access to cabinet documents.
Dion wrote that he gathered sufficient information to make a ruling, but was unable to fully investigate the complaint.
“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. Decisions that affect my jurisdiction under the Act, by setting parameters on my ability to receive evidence, should be made transparently and democratically by Parliament, not by the very same public office holders who are subject to the regime I administer.”
Dion’s report was titled “Trudeau II” because his predecessor, Mary Dawson, found in December 2017 that Trudeau had violated conflict of interest rules over vacations at the Aga Khan’s island in the Bahamas.
“Because there was ongoing official business between the Government of Canada and the Aga Khan at the time each invitation was accepted, Mr. Trudeau, as Prime Minister, was in a position to be able to advance some of the matters of interest to the Aga Khan,” Dawson wrote. “As well, the Foundation was registered to lobby the Office of the Prime Minister at that time. For these reasons, I determined that the vacations accepted by Mr. Trudeau or his family might reasonably be seen to have been given to influence Mr. Trudeau.”
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