5 takeaways from the SNC-Lavalin ethics report
The months-long review by Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion found that Trudeau acted improperly by trying to encourage then-attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to terminate the criminal prosecution of the Montreal engineering firm.
In the report, released Wednesday, Dion asserted that “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.”
He said that it is Trudeau, and only Trudeau, who “by virtue of his position” could exert this kind of influence over Wilson-Raybould.
“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.”
Trudeau later said he disagrees with the ethics commissioner’s report.View link »
“Even though I disagree with some of his conclusions, I fully accept this report and take responsibility for everything that happened,” he said at a news conference in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
He maintained that he was trying to protect Canadian jobs and said he was defending “Canadians and their interests.
“I recognize that this was a situation that shouldn’t have happened. But my desire to protect Canadians and at the same time protect the integrity and the independence of our judicial institutions remained throughout. We recognize that the way this happened shouldn’t have happened.”
What is Section 9 – the rule Trudeau broke?
In the report, Dion said that Trudeau contravened Section 9 of the Conflict of Interest Act through multiple “flagrant attempts to influence” Wilson-Raybould.
The law prohibits public office holders from using their position to try and influence a decision that would improperly further the private interests of a third party.
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Dion cited “reason to believe a possible contravention” of this act when he announced he had launched the investigation back in February.
His subsequent report found “many ways” in which Trudeau sought to influence Wilson-Raybould and improperly further the interests of SNC-Lavalin.
“The evidence showed that SNC-Lavalin had significant financial interest in deferring prosecution,” Dion wrote. “These interests would likely have ben furthered had Mr. Trudeau successfully influenced the Attorney General to intervene in the Director of Public Prosecutions’ decision.”
Dion added: “There is no requirement that the alleged influence must lead to the desire result for a breach of Section 9 to occur.”
Commissioner denied access to some witnesses
To conduct the investigation, Dion asked for evidence from 13 witnesses. One additional person came forward on their own.
The office conducted interviews with six people, including Wilson-Raybould, Minister of Finance Bil Morneau and Trudeau’s senior advisor, Mathieu Bouchard.
But, according to the report, not everyone was spoken to.
Dion said nine witnesses believed they had relevant information, but they could not disclose because of confidentiality.
Dion responded by formally requesting access to have these people break confidentiality, as it related to the investigation.
Though he raised the matter to Trudeau during his own interview and was told it would be looked into, it remained unresolved.
On June 13, the Clerk of the Privy Council declined Dion’s request. Dion was critical of this move.
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“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,” he wrote in the report.
“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.”
Trudeau, speaking later at a news conference, downplayed Dion’s criticism of the cabinet confidences.
“It was not a small thing for our government to decide to weigh both solicitor-client privilege and cabinet confidence in the matter being studied both by the committee and the ethics commissioner,” he said.
“It’s important that Canadians would be able to access all information and gear all testimony in regards to the matter at hand… We did exactly that.”
Trudeau said the report was “fulsome” as a result.
He said keeping some confidentiality was important, so not to create “worrisome precedents.”
Who else is named in the report?
The ethics commissioner interviewed and collected relevant documents from 13 witnesses, including Wilson-Raybould.
Among the interviewees, Dion spoke to Morneau, Bouchard, Trudeau’s other senior advisor Elder Marque and deputy Justice Minister Nathalie Drouin.
He received documents or written submissions from the aforementioned as well as SNC-Lavalin CEO Neil Bruce, Trudeau’s Chief of Staff Katie Telford, Treasury Board President Scott Brison, and Michael Wernick, the clerk of the privy council.
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Gerald Butts, Trudeau’s former principal secretary, who resigned amid the scandal, was also on that list.
Butts, Wernick and Drouin all spoke at a House of Commons justice committee hearing into the SNC-Lavalin affair following Wilson-Raybould’s explosive testimony.
Dion, in his report, also requested further follow-up information from Trudeau and three witnesses via sworn affidavit.
“Mr. Trudeau was given an opportunity to review the transcript of his interview, excerpts of transcriptions of interviews from the six witnesses interviewed and the relevant documentary evidence,” according to the report.
This makes Trudeau’s second ethics breach
Trudeau’s breach of ethics rules in the SNC-Lavalin case marks the second time he’s contravened the act since being in office.
Trudeau has already faced an ethics controversy with his trip to the private island of the Aga Khan. The ethics commissioner found wrongdoing in that case, making him the first and only prime minister to break a federal statue.
When the allegations Trudeau put pressure on Wilson-Raybould to intervene in the prosecution initially came out, Trudeau labelled the reports as “false.” Later, he stood by his comments. Though he expressed regret about the situation, he did not apologize.
Attempts to influence Wilson-Raybould outlined
The first attempt by Trudeau to influence Wilson-Raybould’s came in a Sept. 17, 2018 conversation in which Trudeau and Wernick “impressed the need to find a solution.”
“It was following these latter comments that the Attorney General asked Mr. Trudeau whether he was politically interfering in a criminal prosecution, to which Mr. Trudeau replied that he was not and that he was merely trying to find a solution,” the report reads. “Despite Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s direct advice to Mr. Trudeau, the evidence showed that her warning was discounted and ignored.”
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The second instance came on Oct. 19, 2018.
According to the report, two attempts were made to have Wilson-Raybould intervene in a judicial review of the Director of Public Prosecutions’ decision to not enter negotiations with the company.
The two attempts, one by the Privy Council Office and one by a senior advisor in Trudeau’s office, tried “to expedite the hearing or to ask for a stay of proceedings pending a resolution of the discussions surrounding the remediation agreement,” the report read.
Dion said the most blatant attempt to influence Wilson-Raybould on the case came from Wernick on Dec. 19, 2018
In a statement issued Wednesday, Wilson-Raybould said the report represented a “vindication” for the independence of the role of attorney general and director of public prosecutions, and “reinforces for Canadians” the essential need to uphold the rule of law and prosecutorial independence.
“The Report confirms critical facts, consistent with what I shared with all Canadians, and affirms the position I have taken from the outset.” she wrote.
In the statement, Wilson-Raybould said she has “feelings of sadness.”
“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,” the statement reads.
“We should not struggle to do this; and we should not struggle to acknowledge when we have acted in ways that do not meet those standards.”
What are other politicians saying so far?
With the federal election around the corner, some of Trudeau’s opponents have already taken a swing at this renewed target.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said he believes there is sufficient evidence now to start an RCMP investigation against Trudeau.
He told reporters in Regina that the Trudeau breach is “unforgivable.”
“Justin Trudeau said he would be accountable and ethical. Instead, he used the power of his office to reward his supporters and punish his critics,” Scheer said in a tweet, shortly after the report was made public.
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“He is now the only PM in history to be found guilty of breaking federal ethics law not once, but twice. Trudeau is not as advertised.”
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh tweeted similar sentiments but also took aim at the Conservatives.
“It’s even more clear now that Justin Trudeau is more interested in helping wealthy and well-connected friends, at the expense of Canadians,” he tweeted.
“Let’s be clear on the Trudeau Liberals & Conservatives — both establishment parties have given us a long history of scandals & ethics violations favouring the well-connected. SNC Lavalin is just the latest episode.”
Charlie Angus, who was one of two NDP MPs who asked Dion to conduct the investigation, described the report as a “political bombshell.”
He said it is yet another piece of “evidence of the collusion” involving the PMO.
“This shows a complete disregard for the rule of law in this country,” he said.
Lisa Raitt, Conservative MP, called it “incredibly damning.”
-With files from Hannah Jackson
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