Prime Minister Justin Trudeau violated conflict of interest rules by attempting to interfere in the corruption case against Quebec engineering giant SNC-Lavalin, the federal ethics commissioner has found.
“The evidence showed there were many ways in which Mr. Trudeau, either directly or through the actions of those under his direction, sought to influence the Attorney General,” ethics commissioner Mario Dion said in a report released Wednesday.
The report was released six months after the scandal emerged.
The allegation that former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould was pressured by key officials in the Trudeau administration to resolve criminal charges against SNC-Lavalin through a new legal tool comparable to a plea deal has rocked the Liberal government.
It led to the eventual removal of Wilson-Raybould and then-Treasury Board president Jane Philpott from the Liberal caucus, the resignation of Trudeau’s right-hand man, Gerald Butts, and the early retirement of the country’s top bureaucrat, Michael Wernick.
Trudeau told reporters on Wednesday he has accepted responsibility for what happened, but “can’t apologize” because, as he has maintained throughout the affair, his actions were aimed at trying to protect jobs and the Canadian economy.
Here’s a timeline of the controversy.
Feb. 19, 2015 – The RCMP lays corruption and fraud charges against Montreal-based engineering and construction firm SNC-Lavalin, over allegations it used bribery to get government business in Libya. SNC-Lavalin says the charges are without merit and stem from “alleged reprehensible deeds by former employees who left the company long ago.” A conviction could bar the company from bidding on Canadian government business, potentially devastating it.
Oct. 19 – The Liberals win a federal election, taking power from the Conservatives. Two weeks later, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau names Jody Wilson-Raybould minister of justice and attorney general of Canada. She is the first Indigenous person to hold the post, which combines duties as a politician (heading the Department of Justice) and a legal official (overseeing prosecutions).
March 27, 2018 – The Liberals table a budget bill that includes a change to the Criminal Code allowing “remediation agreements,” plea bargain-like deals between prosecutors and accused corporations in which they can avoid criminal proceedings by making reparations for previous bad behaviour. SNC-Lavalin had lobbied for such a provision in Canadian law.
Spring, 2018 – Although the bill has yet to pass, SNC-Lavalin contacts Public Prosecution Service lawyers to ensure they have all relevant information for a possible invitation to negotiate a remediation agreement. During the next three months, in response to requests from prosecutors, SNC-Lavalin provides detailed information it sees as making a strong case for an agreement.
Sept. 4, 2018 – The prosecution service tells SNC-Lavalin it will not invite the firm to negotiate a remediation agreement.
Sept. 17, 2018 – Trudeau and Wilson-Raybould discuss the SNC-Lavalin file. As attorney general, Wilson-Raybould could overrule the prosecution service, directing it to negotiate an agreement with the company. (Trudeau later says Wilson-Raybould asked him if he planned to tell her what to do concerning the prosecution — a conversation that he says ended with him telling her any decision was hers alone.)
Sept. 18, 2018 – SNC-Lavalin representatives meet with Privy Council clerk Michael Wernick, Canada’s most senior public servant, and Finance Minister Bill Morneau to discuss issues including “justice and law enforcement.”
Sept. 21, 2018 – The remediation-agreement provisions come into legal force.
Oct. 9, 2018 – The prosecution service confirms in writing it will not invite SNC-Lavalin to negotiate a remediation agreement, a decision the company challenges in Federal Court. That challenge is ongoing.
WATCH: Unpacking the politics of the SNC-Lavalin affair (Feb. 24)
Oct. 10, 2018 – SNC-Lavalin issues a news release saying it strongly disagrees with the director of prosecutions’ position and remains open and committed to negotiating a remediation agreement. SNC-Lavalin shares fall nearly 14 per cent, closing at $44.86 on the Toronto Stock Exchange. That’s the lowest close since March 2, 2016.
Oct. 11, 2018 – SNC-Lavalin meets with Elder Marques, a senior adviser in the Prime Minister’s Office, to discuss “justice and law enforcement.”
Nov. 5 and 19, 2018 – SNC-Lavalin meets with Mathieu Bouchard, another senior adviser in the Prime Minister’s Office, to discuss ”justice and law enforcement.”
December, 2018 – According to the Prime Minister’s Office, Wilson-Raybould raises the remediation case with Gerald Butts, the prime minister’s principal secretary, and he tells her to talk to Wernick, the Privy Council clerk.
Jan. 14, 2019 – Trudeau shuffles his cabinet after the resignation of Treasury Board president Scott Brison. Wilson-Raybould is moved from Justice to Veterans Affairs, widely seen as a demotion. David Lametti, a Montreal MP and former law professor, becomes justice minister. Wilson-Raybould posts a long letter outlining her record as justice minister and noting a great deal of work remains to be done toward reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples.
Feb. 7, 2019 – Citing unnamed sources, the Globe and Mail reports that Trudeau’s aides attempted to press Wilson-Raybould, while attorney general, to intervene in the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin, and that exasperation with her lack of co-operation was one reason for shuffling her out of the justice portfolio. Trudeau denies any impropriety. Wilson-Raybould says solicitor-client privilege prevents her from speaking about dealings she had on the case while attorney general.
WATCH: Trudeau denies allegation that PMO pressured AG to drop SNC-Lavalin case (Feb. 7)
Feb. 11, 2019 – Ethics commissioner Mario Dion says he’s beginning an investigation. Trudeau says he’s spoken to Wilson-Raybould and confirmed with her that he said any decision on the SNC-Lavalin prosecution was entirely hers. Her continued presence in his cabinet speaks for itself, he says.
Feb. 12, 2019 – Wilson-Raybould resigns as veterans affairs minister and says she’s hired former Supreme Court justice Thomas Cromwell to advise her on the limits of solicitor-client privilege. Trudeau says he’s surprised and disappointed that Wilson-Raybould has quit, and that if she felt undue pressure in her role as attorney general, she had a duty to report it to him.
Feb. 13, 2019 – The House of Commons justice committee debates its own probe of the issue. Liberals use their majority on the committee to call one closed-door meeting and hear from senior officials (Lametti as justice minister, the top bureaucrat in his department, and the Privy Council clerk) who can talk about the tension between the minister of justice’s duties as a politician and his or her responsibilities as attorney general of Canada. The Liberals say this is a first step in a cautious investigation, but the opposition calls it a cover-up.
Feb. 15, 2019 – Trudeau says Wilson-Raybould asked him in September whether he would direct her one way or another on the SNC-Lavalin question. He says he told her he would not.
Feb. 18, 2019 – Butts resigns as Trudeau’s principal secretary. He denies any impropriety but says his presence in the Prime Minister’s Office has become a distraction.
Feb. 19, 2019 – Wilson-Raybould stuns observers by attending a meeting of the very cabinet from which she had resigned a week earlier. Trudeau says she had asked to speak there and was invited to do so but cabinet confidentiality means nothing can be revealed about why or what was said. After the meeting, Wilson-Raybould says she is still talking to her lawyer about what she can and can’t say publicly.
Feb. 20, 2019 – Trudeau says that while an airing of the facts is needed, he is confident the examinations underway by the ethics commissioner and the justice committee will provide it. The Liberals use their House of Commons majority to defeat an opposition motion calling for a public inquiry into allegations the Prime Minister’s Office pressured Wilson-Raybould.
WATCH: Top public servant defends government’s handling of SNC case
Feb. 21, 2019 – Wernick launches a vigorous defence of the government’s handling of the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin, bluntly declaring allegations of political interference to be false and even defamatory. The Privy Council clerk also challenges Wilson-Raybould’s assertion that solicitor-client privilege prevents her from responding to allegations.
Feb. 25, 2019 – Trudeau partly waives both solicitor-client privilege and cabinet confidentiality for his former attorney general, paving the way for Wilson-Raybould to tell her side of the SNC-Lavalin saga to the justice committee and ethics commissioner. The order specifically notes, however, that she cannot speak publicly about communication she had with Kathleen Roussel, the director of public prosecutions.
Feb. 27, 2019 – Wilson-Raybould delivers explosive testimony at the justice committee. For several hours, she lays out allegations that key Liberals attempted to pressure her into overriding the decision of the director of public prosecutions and grant SNC-Lavalin a deferred prosecution agreement.
“For a period of approximately four months, between September and December of 2018, I experienced a consistent and sustained effort by many people within the government to seek to politically interfere in the exercise of prosecutorial discretion in my role as the attorney general of Canada, in an inappropriate effort to secure a deferred prosecution agreement with SNC-Lavalin,” she said.
WATCH: Wilson-Raybould describes ‘consistent, sustained effort’ to interfere in SNC-Lavalin case
“These events involved 11 people, excluding myself and my political staff, from the Prime Minister’s Office, the Privy Council Office, and the office of the minister of finance. This included in-person conversations, telephone calls, emails and text messages.”
Following her testimony, Scheer called on Trudeau to resign. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh renewed calls for an inquiry on the SNC-Lavalin affair.
March 4, 2019 – Treasury Board President Jane Philpott announces she’s stepping down from cabinet. “I have been considering the events that have shaken the federal government in recent weeks and, after serious reflection, I have concluded that I must resign as a member of cabinet,” she said.
March 6, 2019 – Butts, Wernick and Deputy Minister of Justice Nathalie Drouin testify before the justice committee. Butts disputed parts of Wilson-Raybould’s testiomy, including a Dec. 5 dinner in which she said he pressured her on SNC-Lavalin.
Wernick cited SNC-Lavalin’s “tanking” share price as a reason why the government would continue to ask about a remediation deal after Wilson-Raybould said she had already made up her mind not to grant one.
WATCH: Trudeau laments ‘erosion of trust’ for SNC saga, but doesn’t apologize
March 7, 2019 – Trudeau says he takes responsibility for the “erosion of trust” between his team and Wilson-Raybould on SNC-Lavalin but stops short of apologizing.
March 8, 2019 – The Federal Court denies SNC-Lavalin’s attempt to revisit the prospect of a remediation agreement. The company had been seeking a judicial review of the decision to proceed with criminal charges.
March 11, 2019 – Anti-bribery officials with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development warn they are watching the SNC-Lavalin affair closely.
March 15, 2019 – Wilson-Raybould announces she will run for office again as a Liberal.
March 18, 2019 – The country’s top bureaucrat Michael Wernick announces plans to retire in April after 38 years with the public service.
Justin Trudeau names Anne McLellan to the post of special adviser on the roles of attorney general and justice minister. McLellan, a former Liberal justice minister, was tasked chiefly with examining whether the positions, which are shared by one cabinet minister, should be divided into separate roles in the wake of issues raised by the SNC-Lavalin affair. Opposition members pounced on the issue of whether McLellan could be objective given her background.
March 26, 2019 – Liberals on the House of Commons ethics committee block an opposition attempt to launch another probe of the SNC-Lavalin issue after the justice committee wrapped up its inquiry.
WATCH: Secret recording of Jody Wilson-Raybould’s phone call with Michael Wernick on SNC-Lavalin released
March 29, 2019 – Seventeen minutes of audio from a December 2018 conversation between Wilson-Raybould and Wernick regarding the SNC-Lavalin case are released.
“Michael, I have to say, including this conversation, previous conversations I’ve had with the PM and people around him are entirely inappropriate. It is political interference,” Wilson-Raybould tells Wernick.
April 2, 2019 – Wilson-Raybould and Philpott are kicked out of Liberal caucus. “The trust that previously existed between these two individuals and our team has been broken,” said Trudeau.
April 7, 2019 – Scheer reveals that Trudeau’s lawyer wrote to him threatening to sue for libel in relation to his comments on SNC-Lavalin. “I stand by every single criticism I have made of Mr. Trudeau’s conduct in regards to this scandal, including those Mr. Trudeau’s lawyer cites in his letter,” Scheer told a news conference.
April 28, 2019 – In the wake of the scandal, a poll shows support for the Liberals has sunk to a new low. A Leger poll put the party 13 points behind the Conservatives.
May 27, 2019 – In separate yet co-ordinated announcements, Wilson-Raybould and Philpott reveal they will be running as independents in the fall election.
May 29, 2019 – SNC-Lavalin is ordered to stand trial. A Quebec judge ruled that prosecutors have enough evidence to sustain a trial.
June 28, 2019 – SNC-Lavalin chooses to be tried by judge alone.
WATCH: Conservative MP claims return of Gerald Butts shows more SNC-Lavalin controversies could happen (July 22)
July 20, 2019 – Reports surface that Gerald Butts, Trudeau’s former principal secretary, is working on the Liberals’ fall re-election campaign. In response, Scheer tweeted: “And just like that, the Trudeau team that brought Canadians the SNC Lavalin scandal is right back together.” Singh called it “disappointing.”
July 24, 2019 – The Quebec government says it has no plans to give the company a bailout amid serious concerns about its future.
July 26, 2019 – A new Leger poll finds the Liberals rebounding in support after losing some ground in the wake of the scandal.
August, 2019 – SNC-Lavalin’s finances make headlines. Shares fell to their lowest levels in 15 years. The company posted a second quarter $2.12-billion net loss and cut its quarterly dividend by 80 per cent.
Aug. 14, 2019 – Ethics commissioner Mario Dion releases his 60-page report into whether conflict-of-interest rules were broken in the SNC-Lavalin case.
“The authority of the prime minister and his office was used to circumvent, undermine and ultimately attempt to discredit the decision of the director of public prosecutions as well as the authority of Ms. Wilson‑Raybould as the Crown’s chief law officer,” he found.
The finding does not come with any penalties.
Scheer said the case warrants an RCMP investigation. Singh called the finding “deeply concerning” and said his party is promising to prevent companies facing criminal charges from lobbying the government.
Wilson-Raybould issued a statement on Wednesday saying the report represented a “vindication” for the independence of the role of attorney general and director of public prosecutions and validated critical concerns raised by her, but also said she felt “sadness” seeing how the affair has played out.
“In a country as great as Canada, essential values and principles that are the foundation for our freedoms and system of government should be actively upheld by all, especially those in positions of public trust,” she wrote.
Meanwhile, McLellan, who had been examining the roles of attorney general and justice minister at Trudeau’s request, released a report that concluded the functions should not be separated into two separate portfolios.
Oct. 21, 2019 – The Liberals are re-elected with a minority government following a campaign in which Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said Trudeau had lost the “moral authority” to govern because of his actions in the SNC-Lavalin matter.
Dec. 15, 2019 – Former SNC-Lavalin vice-president Sami Bebawi is found guilty by a jury in Montreal of five charges, including fraud and corruption of foreign officials, in relation to actions taken to secure business for the company in Libya.
Dec. 18, 2019 – The case against the company is settled as SNC Construction, a division of SNC-Lavalin, pleads guilty in Montreal to one charge of fraud related to contracts in Libya and agrees to pay a $280-million penalty. Other charges, including those against the parent company, are stayed.
— With files from Amanda Connolly, Global News