Trudeau violated conflict of interest law in supporting SNC-Lavalin, report rules

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau contravened section 9 of the country’s Conflict of Interest Act when he tried to pressure then-justice minister and Attorney General, Jody Wilson-Raybould, into offering leniency to SNC-Lavalin over the engineering giant’s corruption charges, Canada’s ethics commissioner has ruled.

Commissioner Mario Dion also found that partisan political interests were "improperly put to the Attorney General for consideration in the matter, contrary to longstanding constitutional principles relating to prosecutorial independence and the rule of law".

The conclusion will fuel opposition to Trudeau ahead of a federal election in October.

"The Prime Minister, directly and through his senior officials, used various means to exert influence over Ms. Wilson-Raybould," said Dion at the release of his report on the matter on 14 August. 

"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."

SNC-Lavalin had been campaigning to be allowed to take part in Canada’s new Remediation Agreement programme, which would have seen it avoid a lengthy corruption trial, but Canada’s Director of Public Prosecutions refused to offer that route.

The company was charged in 2015, with prosecutors alleging that between 2001 and 2011 it offered millions of dollars in bribes in return for work in Libya. If found guilty, the company could be barred from government contracts.

In February Wilson-Raybould told the Commons justice committee that over four months to December 2018 she "experienced a consistent and sustained effort by many people within the government to seek to politically interfere in the exercise of prosecutorial discretion in my role as the attorney general of Canada".

Trudeau, who had denied any wrongdoing, first fired Wilson-Raybould as justice minister and then expelled her and another minister from the Liberal Party over the affair. 

In his statement this week Dion also complained about government obstruction of his investigation.

He said: "The decision made by the Privy Council Office to deny our Office access to a full range of Cabinet confidences meant nine witnesses were constrained in providing our Office with the full body of evidence potentially relevant to the examination.

"I believe that decisions relating to my access to such information should be made transparently and democratically by Parliament, not by the very same public office holders who are subject to the regime I administer."

In a statement Trudeau said: "The buck stops with me, and I take full responsibility for everything that happened, and accept the report".

However, he disagreed with Dion that any contact with the Attorney General on this issue was improper.

"I disagree with that conclusion, especially when so many people’s jobs were at stake," Trudeau said.

"My objective was, and always will be, to stand up for people’s jobs and livelihoods across the country, while upholding the rule of law and respecting the role of the Attorney General. When thousands of jobs are on the line and communities stand to suffer, it is the government’s responsibility to stand up for them."

Image: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau yesterday at the 25th Congrès mondial acadien in Moncton, New Brunswick (From the Prime Minister’s twitter account)

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