Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says his government might have acted differently had it known the criminal case against SNC-Lavalin would be resolved without crippling the company or throwing thousands of its employees out of work.
“Obviously, as we look back over the past year and this issue, there are things we could have, should have, would have done differently had we known, had we known all sorts of different aspects of it,” he said in a year-end interview with The Canadian Press, just hours after the Montreal engineering giant pleaded guilty to one charge of fraud.
“But you don’t get do-overs in politics. You only do the best you can to protect jobs, to respect the independence of the judiciary and that’s exactly what we did every step of the way.”
READ MORE: SNC-Lavalin pleads guilty to fraud charges
Throughout the year-long saga that shook Trudeau’s government and likely contributed to the Liberals being reduced to a minority in the Oct. 21 election, the prime minister argued his only preoccupation was protecting the 9,000 innocent Canadian employees, as well as pensioners, shareholders and suppliers, who stood to be harmed if SNC was convicted on corruption charges related to contracts in Libya.
Yet after the company reached an agreement with the Crown prosecutor Wednesday, it issued a statement saying it “does not anticipate that the (guilty) plea will have any long-term material adverse impact on the company’s overall business.”
Under the agreement, SNC-Lavalin Construction pleaded guilty to a charge of fraud over $5,000, will pay a $280-million penalty and will be subject to a three-year probation order. The remaining charges were stayed.
“This process unfolded in an independent way and we got to an outcome that seems positive for everyone involved, particularly for the workers,” Trudeau said.
Trudeau’s world was rocked by allegations that he, his senior staff, the top public servant and others had inappropriately pressured former justice minister and attorney general, Jody Wilson-Raybould, to stop the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin. They wanted her to use her legal authority to override the director of public prosecutions, who had decided not to negotiate a remediation agreement — a form of plea bargain — with SNC.
Wilson-Raybould, who quit Trudeau’s cabinet and won re-election as an Independent, suggested in a series of tweets that Wednesday’s resolution of the case vindicates her refusal to politically interfere with the public prosecutor’s decision.
“I have long believed in the essential necessity of our judicial system operating as it should — based on the rule of law and prosecutorial independence, and without political interference or pressure,” she said.
Under pressure from SNC, the Trudeau government last year amended the Criminal Code to allow for remediation agreements, also known as deferred prosecution agreements, in corporate corruption cases.
Trudeau once again defended the concept Wednesday, arguing that just because it wasn’t used in the SNC case doesn’t mean it’s not a useful tool to have in the tool box.
“I think having tools that are ensuring that we are protecting people who work hard at their jobs from malfeasance or mistakes made at the executive level is going to be important,” he said. “We don’t want to punish workers for decisions that are made by people who might not have the interests of the workers at heart.”
The issue dates back to 2015, when SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. and two of its affiliates, SNC-Lavalin Construction and SNC-Lavalin International, were charged with corruption of a foreign public official and fraud stemming from business dealings in Libya.
SNC-Lavalin unsuccessfully pressed the director of prosecutions to negotiate a remediation agreement out of concern the company could be barred from federal contracts for a decade if convicted of criminal charges.
Director of public prosecutions Kathleen Roussel thanked her team Wednesday for its dedicated work on a challenging case “in the face of unprecedented public attention.”
David Lametti, who succeeded Wilson-Raybould as attorney general and justice minister, was not involved in the settlement negotiations, said Crown prosecutor Richard Roy.
In a statement, Lametti said Roussel advised him of the agreement Tuesday, as she is required to do by law in ongoing matters she deems to be of general interest.
“This decision was made independently by the (prosecution service), as part of their responsibility to continually assess and determine the appropriate path for cases under their jurisdiction,” he said.
“Canadians can have confidence that our judicial and legal systems are working as they should.”