The SNC-Lavalin Scandal, Explained

Photo by David Kawai/Bloomberg/Getty Images.
Update, February 28, 2019: Jody Wilson-Raybould finally gave her version of events in the SNC-Lavalin controversy to the Commons justice committee yesterday. In a damning testimony, Wilson-Raybould claimed she received pressure and “veiled threats” when she was the attorney general to make sure SNC-Lavalin avoided trial in the company’s criminal proceedings. Referring to details notes, Wilson-Raybould said the prime minister and his top aides pushed her in numerous meetings and phone calls to save SNC-Lavalin because its prosecution would result in the loss of jobs and loss of support in Quebec. Trudeau strongly disputes Wilson-Raybould’s claims, saying that he and his staff “acted appropriately and professionally.” We’re now in a war of words and a classic “he-said, she-said” face-off between Wilson-Raybould and the Liberal government. The Conservative opposition is calling for Trudeau to resign over the scandal.
Wilson-Raybould, Canada’s first Indigenous attorney general, signed off her remarks with this: “I come from a long line of matriarchs and I am a truth-teller in accordance with the laws and traditions of our Big House — this is who I am and who I will always be.”
Update, February 26, 2019: Jody Wilson-Raybould will get to speak. An order-in-council (OIC) issued by the Trudeau government Monday allows Wilson-Raybould to share details of her involvement in the SNC-Lavalin controversy to the Commons justice committee. Her solicitor-client privilege with the Government of Canada has been waived. She’s set to speak to the justice committee this week and whatever she shares could have bombshell implications for the ongoing scandal.
This article was originally published on February 25, 2019.
Photo: Bernat Armangue/AP/REX/Shutterstock.
Shocking resignations. Alleged cover-ups. Accusations of corruption. An ongoing investigation. That may sound like an episode of House of Cards but it’s actually the latest in the SNC-Lavalin scandal that’s rocking the Liberal government. Last week MPs voted against a motion to launch a public inquiry into the allegations that the Prime Minister’s Office pressured former Attorney General turned Veteran’s Affairs Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould into halting the criminal prosecution of engineering giant SNC-Lavalin.
Since The Globe and Mail broke the scandal, Wilson-Raybould has resigned and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s top advisor, Gerald Butts, has also stepped down from his position. A recent survey shows that Trudeau’s approval numbers are plummeting in the midst of the controversy. In other words, it’s a mess for the Liberals. Where did the chaos begin? And what exactly are the claims being made against Trudeau and his closest officials? Let’s break down what the heck is going on in the biggest political scandal dominating Canadian headlines right now.

Let’s start with the most-Googled question: What is SNC-Lavalin?

SNC-Lavalin is a massive engineering and construction firm based in Montreal. The company is one of the largest of its kind in the world and, according to the CBC, it employs 28,000 people worldwide in more than 100 countries. The company has been run some big-deal Canadian projects like toll highways in Toronto, subway extensions in Montreal, and transit systems in Calgary and Vancouver.

And what is the SNC-Lavalin scandal?

SNC-Lavalin has been dogged with corruption allegations after a casual $56-million in mysterious payments surfaced, supposedly used to bribe governments in Libya and in Bangladesh for project contracts (a 4,000-kilometre pipeline in Libya and a bridge in Bangladesh). A corruption and fraud case was brought against SNC-Lavalin for the Libya accusations. This is where the current scandal starts to simmer. On February 7, a Globe and Mail story purported that Trudeau’s office tried to intervene in the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin and pressured then-Attorney General Wilson-Raybould to let SNC off with the equivalent of a plea bargain (a deferred prosecution agreement) to allow it to evade a trial or criminal conviction. If the company was convicted, it would not be able to compete for federal contracts “for a decade,” thus resulting in a massive hit to the firm and loss of jobs. So, Wilson-Raybould was allegedly strongly “urged” by the PMO to help the company avoid criminal prosecution. If this is true, it’s a very, very BAD look for the ethics of the prime minister and his office.

Why did Jody Wilson-Raybould resign?

Long answer: Wilson Raybould, who was Canada’s first Indigenous Justice Minister, hasn’t said much since the scandal broke because she’s bound by client-solicitor privilege. But what we do know is this: Wilson-Raybould was shuffled from Attorney General to Veteran Affairs Minister in January, in a move that many would classify as a demotion. After the SNC-Lavalin scandal, Wilson-Raybould resigned, writing a letter that did not go into detail about her reasons for resigning but revealed that she has hired a former Supreme Court justice named Thomas Albert Cromwell for legal advice. She also basically thanked everyone she worked with except for the prime minister. Wilson-Raybould will remain as a Liberal MP for Vancouver Granville but has stepped down from all other cabinet duties. The short answer: We don’t know why exactly Wilson-Raybould quit, but it almost definitely has something to do with the SNC-Lavalin mess. Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh want Trudeau to wave Wilson-Raybould’s client-solicitor privilege so she can speak freely on the scandal.

Why did Trudeau advisor Gerald Butts resign?

This one’s an even bigger head-scratcher. If you know anything about the Trudeau government, you know principal secretary Gerry Butts. He was Trudeau’s right-hand man, the Alexander Hamilton to Trudeau’s George Washington. Along with chief of staff Katie Telford, he was Trudeau’s most-trusted aide. They weren’t only close colleagues, they are also good friends whose relationship spans decades. This resignation is a major blow to Trudeau’s team and comes once again on the heels of the SNC-Lavalin scandal. When Butts resigned, he tweeted that “public institutions are bigger and more important than any of their temporary occupants.” To me, that sounds like Butts was trying to sacrifice himself in order to save face for the prime minister’s involvement in the scandal but his statement unequivocally attests that “any accusation that [Butts] or the staff put pressure on the Attorney General is simply not true.”

How is Trudeau involved in the SNC-Lavalin controversy?

Justin Trudeau isn’t having a great week. He’s lost his go-to guy in a crisis in the middle of a crisis. He’s getting heckled during Question Period and his popularity numbers are down. So far, Trudeau has stuck to his guns that his office did not pressure Wilson-Raybould (he says they met in September but he did not direct her either way on the SNC-Lavalin issue) and even went as far as to hint that a public inquiry into the scandal isn't necessary. He’s mostly dodged direct questions about the inquiry but he did have a closed-door meeting with Wilson-Raybould and his cabinet Tuesday, exactly one week after she resigned. Since her resignation, Wilson-Raybould has faced some pretty horrible public shaming. After the meeting, Trudeau issued an apology for not standing up for Wilson-Raybould sooner.
We’ll keep updating this story as it unfolds.

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