Sweetheart deal for corporations at the center of exploding allegations against the government

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Carol Hughes, MP
Carol Hughes, MP

The surprise resignation of Jody Wilson-Raybould from cabinet this week caps a string of developments that have rocked the government with respect to their apparent cozy relationship with the Quebec-based engineering firm SNC Lavalin.  What began as the surprise demotion of a senior cabinet member in January blew wide open in February when a Globe and Mail story suggested that the reason for her ouster was linked to political interference from members of the Prime Minister’s Office who had encouraged she forego prosecution of SNC Lavalin.

Adding to the speculation was a letter that Wilson-Raybould wrote as she switched ministries, stating that the office of the Minister of Justice must be “free from even the perception of political interference and uphold the highest levels of public confidence.” The subsequent letter that accompanied her resignation from cabinet altogether had the effect of pouring gas on the already blazing speculation that the PMO had in fact attempted to interfere on behalf of SNC.

When she was first appointed to cabinet and given such a senior role, it seemed like a significant move toward reconciliation between Canada and Indigenous populations.  Jody Wilson-Raybould was the first Indigenous woman to hold the post and, given the stated commitments of the government, there was hope that Canada could make headway on a number of important issues.

Three and a half years later those commitments are being strained while the government deals with the loss of a star cabinet minister and the perception that they are willing to move heaven and earth on behalf of their corporate cronies first and foremost.  Despite slow progress on a number of promised justice reforms during the election, the government did find the time to include deferred prosecution agreements for criminal offences in 2018’s omnibus budget implementation bill.  This new measure allows corporations facing criminal charges to skip prosecution and pay back any profits made illegally, which then allows prosecutors to ask the court to drop the charges.

It is interesting that deferred prosecution agreements were introduced at the request of SNC Lavalin in the aftermath of 2015 RCMP charges against them. Those charges related to corruption and fraud for allegedly paying nearly $48-million to public officials in Libya. The RCMP also tacked on additional charges of defrauding Libyan organizations of about $130-million.  The company has a checkered background which includes the 2010 Montreal hospital scandal, corruption allegations in Bangladesh, and being barred by the World Bank in 2013. On top of that, the company was linked to the sponsorship scandal and was found to have illegally funneled $110,000 into Liberal Party coffers and almost as much into those of the Conservative Party.

Now the government is reeling and in damage control. The Ethic Commissioner has indicated he will be investigating the allegations, which New Democrats had requested.  The Justice Committee reconvened during the constituency week to begin the process of examining whether there was illegal interference with the independent exercise of the former Attorney General’s responsibilities. Finally, Jody Wilson-Raybould has sought legal advice to determine what she can say about the events that have brought us to this point.  There is no doubt that Canadians want questions answered and it is better to get it done sooner than later.


Une entente de faveur pour une entreprise au cœur de l’explosion des allégations contre le gouvernement

La démission surprise de Jody Wilson-Raybould du Cabinet cette semaine vient couronner une série d’événements qui ont ébranlé le gouvernement en raison de sa relation apparemment intime avec la firme d’ingénierie québécoise SNC-Lavalin. La rétrogradation surprise d’un membre important du Cabinet en janvier a éclaté au grand jour lorsqu’un article du Globe and Mail, publié en février, a laissé entendre que cette rétrogradation faisait suite à l’ingérence politique de membres du Cabinet du premier ministre qui l’encourageaient à renoncer aux poursuites contre SNC-Lavalin.

À ces spéculations s’ajoutait une lettre écrite par Mme Wilson-Raybould au moment où elle changeait de ministère, dans laquelle elle mentionnait que le bureau du ministre de la Justice devait être « à l’abri de toute perception d’ingérence politique et maintenir les niveaux les plus élevés de confiance du public » [traduction]. La lettre subséquente, qui accompagnait sa démission du Cabinet, a eu pour effet de raviver la spéculation selon laquelle le Cabinet du premier ministre avait en fait tenté d’intervenir au nom de SNC.

La nomination initiale de Jody Wilson-Raybould au Cabinet et le rôle aussi important qu’on lui confiait semblaient être un pas important vers la réconciliation entre le Canada et les populations autochtones. Mme Wilson-Raybould devenait la première femme autochtone à occuper ce poste et, compte tenu des engagements déclarés du gouvernement, on espérait que le Canada pourrait faire des progrès dans un certain nombre de dossiers importants.

Trois ans et demi plus tard, ces engagements sont mis à rude épreuve, car le gouvernement fait face à la perte d’une ministre vedette du Cabinet et à la perception qu’il est prêt à remuer mer et monde au nom de ses amis corporatifs d’abord et avant tout. Malgré la lenteur des progrès réalisés à l’égard d’un certain nombre de réformes de la justice promises pendant la campagne électorale, le gouvernement a trouvé le temps d’inclure dans le projet de loi omnibus d’exécution budgétaire de 2018 des ententes de poursuites suspendues pour des infractions criminelles. Avec cette nouvelle mesure, les procureurs peuvent demander au tribunal d’abandonner des accusations criminelles qui pèsent contre des sociétés si ces dernières remboursent les profits réalisés illégalement.

Il est intéressant de souligner que SNC‑Lavalin avait demandé l’ajout d’ententes de poursuites suspendues à la suite des accusations portées contre eux par la GRC en 2015. Ces accusations de corruption et de fraude faisaient suite à un versement prétendu de près de 48 millions de dollars à des fonctionnaires libyens. La GRC a également porté des accusations pour une escroquerie d’environ 130 millions de dollars contre des organisations libyennes. L’entreprise a un passé mouvementé qui comprend le scandale de l’hôpital de Montréal en 2010, des allégations de corruption au Bangladesh et le fait d’être interdite par la Banque mondiale en 2013. De plus, la firme était liée au scandale des commandites et on a découvert qu’elle avait illégalement versé 110 000 $ dans les coffres du Parti libéral et presque autant dans ceux du Parti conservateur.

Aujourd’hui, le gouvernement est sur la sellette et s’efforce de limiter les dégâts. Le commissaire à l’éthique a indiqué qu’il enquêtera sur les allégations, comme l’avaient demandé les néo-démocrates. Le Comité de la justice s’est réuni de nouveau au cours de la semaine de relâche pour commencer à examiner s’il y avait eu ingérence illégale dans l’exercice indépendant des responsabilités de l’ancien procureur général. Enfin, Jody Wilson-Raybould a demandé des conseils juridiques afin de déterminer ce qu’elle peut dévoiler sur les événements qui nous ont amenés à ce point. Il ne fait aucun doute que les Canadiens veulent qu’on réponde à leurs questions, et il est préférable de le faire le plus tôt possible.

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Carol Hughes MP
Carol is a three-term MP who has worked hard for Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing since being elected in 2008. In addition to her role as MP, Carol serves as Assistant Deputy Speaker and Chair of Committees of the Whole in Canada’s 42nd Parliament. A tireless advocate for the communities she serves, Carol was a leading figure in the fight to preserve ten federal constituencies for Northern Ontario. She has been a prominent spokesperson for passenger rail service, preserving postal service outlets, and good jobs in the region. Carol has worked with First Nations on local and national issues and served as the New Democrat critic for First Nations Health prior to assuming the responsibilities of Assistant Deputy Speaker. With decades of labour experience, Carol understands the priorities of hardworking families. She has introduced legislation to expand access to Employment Insurance benefits and to require mandatory reporting of workplace accidents and occupational diseases. She has also worked with veterans on legislation that will create a Defence of Canada Medal to honour those who served domestically to protect Canada during the Cold War. Committed to serving all her constituents, Carol maintains full constituency offices in both Kapuskasing and Elliot Lake. She also holds regular clinics in communities throughout the riding. Before entering politics, Carol was a regional representative for the Canadian Labour Congress. Earlier, she worked for Probation and Parole Services in Elliot Lake and Youth Justice Services in Sudbury. A long-time community volunteer and activist, Carol lived in Elliot Lake for nearly three decades with her husband Kieth. And as a proud mother and grandmother, Carol is committed to building a better Canada for future generations.

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