Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was found to have violated a section of the Conflict of Interest Act with his conduct in the SNC-Lavalin scandal, marking the second time Trudeau has been found to have violated the ethics code since coming into office in 2015.
Ethics commissioner Mario Dion released a damning report Wednesday that found Trudeau improperly pressured former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould to reach a deferred prosecution agreement with Quebec engineering giant SNC-Lavalin to help the company avoid criminal prosecution on fraud and bribery charges.
WATCH: Scheer says ethics violations ‘a Liberal party problem’ following report SNC-Lavalin
“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,” Dion said in his report.
“The prime minister, directly and through his senior officials, used various means to exert influence over Ms. 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,” Dion wrote.
Dion found Trudeau violated Section 9 of the Conflict of Interest Act, which bars public officeholders from “using their position to seek to influence a decision to improperly further the private interests of a third party, either by acting outside the scope of their legislative authority, or contrary to a rule, a convention or an established process.”
In an interview with Dion, Trudeau denied attempting to improperly influence Wilson-Raybould, saying he felt the former justice minister did not adequately consider the possibility of negotiating a deferred prosecution agreement, which he considered to be in the public interest.
WATCH: Trudeau says he takes ‘responsibility’ for SNC-Lavalin controversy
Trudeau said Wednesday he accepts the findings of the commissioner’s report, but says he disagrees with some of Dion’s conclusions.
“I take full responsibility. The buck stops with the prime minister,” Trudeau told reporters. “What happened over the past year shouldn’t have happened.”
In a statement, Wilson-Raybould said the report is a “vindication of the independent role of the Attorney-General and of the Director of Public Prosecutions in criminal prosecutions.”
“The report confirms critical facts, consistent with what I shared with all Canadians, and affirms the position I have taken from the outset.” she said.
This is the second time Trudeau has been found guilty of violating the ethics act. In 2017, then-ethics commissioner Mary Dawson found that when Trudeau took a Christmas 2016 trip with family to the Aga Khan’s private island in the Bahamas, he contravened the act in several ways related to accepting gifts from someone registered to lobby his office.
Trudeau said the Aga Khan was a close personal friend, which would have allowed an exception to the act. Dawson rejected that explanation.
“Because there was ongoing official business between the government of Canada and the Aga Khan at the time each invitation was accepted, Mr. Trudeau, as prime minister, was in a position to be able to advance some of the matters of interest to the Aga Khan,” that report found. “The vacations accepted by Mr. Trudeau or his family might reasonably be seen to have been given to influence Mr. Trudeau.”
The prime minister apologized following the report, saying he accepted the findings and that “in the future, I will be clearing all my family vacations with the commissioner’s office.”
Trudeau’s cabinet has faced a total of five ethics controversies, including Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s failure to disclose that one of his private corporations owned a villa in the south of France.
WATCH: NDP leader Jagmeet Singh says ethics commissioner report ‘deeply concerning’
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer accused Trudeau of outright lying about his role in the SNC-Lavalin scandal and said there was enough evidence “to warrant an RCMP investigation.”
“Now, his first violation for accepting a paid vacation on a luxury island from somebody lobbying his government was shocking,” Scheer said during a press conference. “This one is unforgivable.
“Trudeau may never face a court of law in this scandal, but he will have to face the Canadian people over the next few weeks.”
Charlie Angus, one of the two NDP MPs who initially asked Dion to investigate, called Wednesday findings “an absolute political bombshell.”
“We have more and more evidence of the collusion that went on in the Prime Minister’s Office to interfere with an independent prosecution,” Angus told Global News. “This is really, I think politically, beyond the pale that the prime minister thought he could get away with this.”
Darrell Bricker, CEO of Ipsos Global Public Affairs, said the report is a nightmare for the Liberals heading into the upcoming federal election as it renewed attention to an issue that saw support for Trudeau’s government sink in the polls.
“This is bad, about as bad it can get going into an election campaign,” Bricker said. “The question is whether [Trudeau’s Liberals] have a better answer than they had last February, which to this point we haven’t head.”
“The only thing that is good about this [report] is that it happened early and they have time to recover.”
The Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner of Canada only came into being in July 2007 so it’s operated under just two prime ministers: Trudeau and Stephen Harper.
Eight MPs faced ethical investigations during the Harper government’s nine years in office, along with several high-ranking government staff.
This included former minister of labour Lisa Raitt, who was investigated after accepting a complimentary upgrade to executive class on an Air Canada flight from Toronto to Ottawa in 2011. She was also cleared of any wrongdoing.
The ethics commissioner ultimately found wrongdoing in five out of the eight cases investigated.
— With files from Katie Dangerfield
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