OPINION – Why the SNC-Lavalin Scandal Matters

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OTTAWA – For a month the news has been filled with details about the SNC-Lavalin Scandal that has embroiled the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. This hasn’t been a salacious scandal filled with sex, drugs and insanity like we might see elsewhere, which has led some to say that there is nothing to see here. But just because this story hasn’t had all of those things, doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter. In a country like ours, a story like this matters for many reasons.

SNC-Lavalin is facing serious criminal charges surrounding alleged bribes paid to the family of Libyan Dictator Moammar Gadhafi, specifically $48 Million in bribes, including paying for yachts and prostitutes for Gadhafi’s son. This is not the only case where SNC has faced allegations like these; they have been banned by the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank for past malfeasance.

Now you might say “That’s the price of doing business in some countries”, but SNC has also been involved in cases here at home. They allegedly bribed officials in Montreal to the tune of $22.5 Million in relation to a new hospital project and also made over $100,000 worth of illegal campaign contributions to the Liberals and Conservatives. These are serious charges and show a pattern of behaviour over time.

In the last budget, the Trudeau government passed a law to allow for Deferred Prosecution Agreements (DPA). This would allow a company like SNC, if they qualified, to pay huge fines instead of facing a criminal penalty. The rationale for this kind of law is to “protect the jobs of innocent people who had nothing to do with the crimes committed”.

As Attorney General, under this law, it was up to Jody Wilson-Raybould to instruct prosecutors to enter into a negotiation. But something happened; she said no. The prosecutors denied SNC’s request for a DPA and Wilson-Raybould backed them up. This was all on the up and up, as the Attorney General has independence and has it for a good reason; to prevent political interference in criminal prosecutions.

Despite that independence, the Prime Ministers office spent months badgering Wilson-Raybould, pointing to all the jobs that were at risk if SNC didn’t get this DPA. Under the law that the Prime Minister passed, the prosecutor is forbidden from considering the “national economic interest”. So, she couldn’t consider that, even though his team still talks about the jobs that day. But that didn’t stop them; they wouldn’t take no for an answer.

They wanted a “solution” she couldn’t say yes to. They offered to bring in “independent, respected jurists” to give a legal opinion as if her legal training and experience were somehow lacking. It all stunk to high heaven. Prosecutorial independence is a cornerstone of our democracy and if you mess with that for political gain, that’s not just potentially illegal, it’s morally and ethically corrupt. That might be why the OECD Working Group on Bribery put out a statement Monday saying they are concerned about these events.

But when it comes to those jobs, we don’t even know if they are at risk. Gerald Butts testified they had no proof of this claim. So, what do we say to those who never got jobs thanks to the bribes paid by SNC? How about those workers or the companies that were deprived of work building that hospital in Montreal because they decided to obey the law instead of sticking their middle fingers at it? We send a terrible message to those companies and workers if we basically say that SNC is “too big to jail”.

Throughout the mandate letters to his ministers, Trudeau wrote that they were to “set a higher bar for openness and transparency” and wanted “Canadians to look on their own government with pride and trust.” He set a tone which I believe ministers like Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott believed in. So, they went about doing their jobs with that in their hearts and minds. When faced with a Prime Minister acting like those words were all puffery, they did what their morals demanded; they resigned. They resigned for doing their jobs and doing the right thing, surely there must be something very wrong about that picture.

That’s why this matters; it cuts to the very core of the basics of upholding peace, order and good government and what Justin Trudeau ran on. The story may not be full of the glitz of an American scandal, but that doesn’t mean it matters any less. Trudeau offered Canadians a better way and an approach that was beyond reproach. So, when he seems determined to get his way on SNC, trying to stop Canadians from getting the truth, surely that warrants the attention this story is getting.

We complain a lot about the quality of our politicians and how they behave, sometimes rightfully so. But if we turn a blind eye whenever a story like this comes up, we’re just sending them the message that it’s alright to keep doing business as usual. And then we never get the better that we deserve.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by all columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of NetNewsLedger.

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Cam Holmstrom was born and raised in Kenora, Ontario and is a graduate of Lakehead University. He worked on Parliament Hill for nine years in the NDP caucus, with extensive experience working in the Natural Resources, Education and Indigenous Rights portfolios. He has worked more than a dozen election campaigns in three provinces, including three leadership campaigns. He is a citizen of the Métis Nation of Ontario. Cam now works with Bluesky Strategy Group in Ottawa as a Consultant and also comments on politics and current events at magpiebrule.ca.