LOUIS COOPER – Is Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, “golden” reputation becoming tarnished?

Mar 5, 2019

 What is causing the slip in a poll taken last week is a complicated set of circumstances, centering on a Quebec-based engineering company called SNC-Lavalin. Several former executives of the company face or have faced charges of bribing a foreign public official, under Canada’s Corruption on Foreign Public Officials Act, as well as with fraud, under Canada’s Criminal Code. The offences are alleged to have take place between 2001 and 2011 and are related to SNC construction contracts in Libya. Charges were laid in February 2015. The RCMP alleges SNC paid almost $C48-million to Libyan public officials to influence government decisions, as well as defrauding Libyan organizations of another $C130-million.

Publicly available documents showed that SNC, almost as soon as the charges were laid, tried to get a “deferred  prosecution agreement” (DPA). The company’s former CEO, Robert Card, talked about a DPA as early as May 2015, although DPA’s weren’t available in Canada at that time. SNC also ramped up its lobbying of federal government officials. It’s been reported that in 2017, company representatives met government officials and MPs more than 50 times, including 14 visits with staff in the Prime Minister’s office. Later that year, the Canadian government launched brief consultations on DPAs, or “remediation agreements”. Such agreements allow corporations to negotiate a resolution to a criminal prosecution without having to admit guilt, or the potential “disbarment” of doing business with the federal government for as long as 10 years.

The agreements were in the federal budget brought down in February 2018, with amendments to the Criminal Code enacted in June. They came into effect in September.

SNC-Lavalin, according to Federal Court documents, contacted lawyers at the Public Prosecution Service in April, months before the legislation was passed in Parliament.

Between April and June 2018, SNC handed over all sorts of information. According to

the documents filed, the company had – since 2012 when the events in Libya first surfaced – had brought in “a world class ethics and compliance program”, as well as completely replacing its senior management and board of directors. SNC had also fired “senior officers who could be considered as having been even remotely associated” with the paying of bribes in Libya.

Then, in October 2018, Richard Roy, counsel for the Director of Prosecutions, Kathleen Roussel, emailed SNC’s lawyers and dropped a bombshell. Ms. Roussel had determined “a remediation agreement is not appropriate in this case”. SNC had been given a “heads up” on September 4.

Now the political plot thickens. Two weeks later, on September 17, Prime Minister Trudeau met with the then Attorney-General, Judy Wilson-Raybould. It was at this meeting that Trudeau says he told the former Attorney-General, the decision – whether she would, in effect, overrule prosecutors and instruct Roussel to make the deal – was hers to make.

Within 10 days of Roy’s October email, SNC lawyers were in Federal Court looking for a judicial review of Roussel’s decision along with an order compelling her to invite the company to begin negotiating a remediation agreement. And while this was happening, a preliminary hearing on the bribery charges was underway. The judge has yet to issue a decision as to whether the hearing will go to trial. In addition, lawyers for Roussel have asked that the judicial review application be struck down. The question is whether Roussel has the discretion to make the decision she did and whether it can be reviewed.

Now to the very public political fallout. In January this year, Trudeau shuffled is cabinet and, in the process, Jody Judy Wilson-Raybould was moved from being Attorney-General to Minister for Veteran’s Affairs. On February 12, the minister resigned from Trudeau’s Cabinet. However, she returned to the House and sat in chair for the Minister of Veteran’s Affairs. And while she has not returned to Cabinet, she has asked everyone to forget that she resigned in the first place. Sources are saying she wanted to air her grievances with the Cabinet. And the minister has told journalists she is still consulting with legal counsel on what she can say without breaching solicitor-client privilege rules.

Hard on heels of the Wilson-Raybould “resignation” came another resignation: Gerald Butts, Trudeau’s principle secretary and a long-time personal friend. Butts’ statement said he resigned “so his presence would not distract from the vital work of the government.

All of this was “red meat” to the opposition: the Progressive Conservatives and the New Democratic Party. There were calls for a public inquiry and suggestions of scandal.

This serious political impasse for the Liberal government may simply be a difference of interpretation between a male political staffer and a female cabinet minister over what constitutes “political pressure”.

In any event, a survey conducted for the Canadian Press shows Prime Minister Trudeau is taking a personal hit over all of this. Asked in November 2018, which Party leader would make the best prime minister, Trudeau got the backing of 26%. In the latest poll in the latest poll, Trudeau’s ratings had dropped by 7%. And this poll, there is only a 2% difference between the Liberal Party (36%) and the Conservatives (34%).

Louis Cooper-journalist, TV news producer, director, assignment editor for ABC-Australia, CBC-Canada, CBS News (New York and London), CTV News-Canada and Newsworld International-Canada and the US.

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