Hughes – Sweetheart deal for corporations at the centre of exploding allegations against the government

Feb 16, 2019 @ 14:17

The surprise resignation of Jody Wilson-Raybould from cabinet this week caps a string of developments that have rocked the government with respect to their apparent cozy relationship with the Quebec-based engineering firm SNC Lavalin.  What began as the surprise demotion of a senior cabinet member in January blew wide open in February when a Globe and Mail story suggested that the reason for her ouster was linked to political interference from members of the Prime Minister’s Office who had encouraged she forego prosecution of SNC Lavalin.

Adding to the speculation was a letter that Wilson-Raybould wrote as she switched ministries, stating that the office of the Minister of Justice must be “free from even the perception of political interference and uphold the highest levels of public confidence.” The subsequent letter that accompanied her resignation from cabinet altogether had the effect of pouring gas on the already blazing speculation that the PMO had in fact attempted to interfere on behalf of SNC.

When she was first appointed to cabinet and given such a senior role, it seemed like a significant move toward reconciliation between Canada and Indigenous populations.  Jody Wilson-Raybould was the first Indigenous woman to hold the post and, given the stated commitments of the government, there was hope that Canada could make headway on a number of important issues.

Three and a half years later those commitments are being strained while the government deals with the loss of a star cabinet minister and the perception that they are willing to move heaven and earth on behalf of their corporate cronies first and foremost.  Despite slow progress on a number of promised justice reforms during the election, the government did find the time to include deferred prosecution agreements for criminal offences in 2018’s omnibus budget implementation bill.  This new measure allows corporations facing criminal charges to skip prosecution and pay back any profits made illegally, which then allows prosecutors to ask the court to drop the charges.

It is interesting that deferred prosecution agreements were introduced at the request of SNC Lavalin in the aftermath of 2015 RCMP charges against them. Those charges related to corruption and fraud for allegedly paying nearly $48-million to public officials in Libya. The RCMP also tacked on additional charges of defrauding Libyan organizations of about $130-million.  The company has a checkered background which includes the 2010 Montreal hospital scandal, corruption allegations in Bangladesh, and being barred by the World Bank in 2013. On top of that, the company was linked to the sponsorship scandal and was found to have illegally funneled $110,000 into Liberal Party coffers and almost as much into those of the Conservative Party.

Now the government is reeling and in damage control. The Ethic Commissioner has indicated he will be investigating the allegations, which New Democrats had requested.  The Justice Committee reconvened during the constituency week to begin the process of examining whether there was illegal interference with the independent exercise of the former Attorney General’s responsibilities. Finally, Jody Wilson-Raybould has sought legal advice to determine what she can say about the events that have brought us to this point.  There is no doubt that Canadians want questions answered and it is better to get it done sooner than later.