Trudeau defends role in SNC scandal
OTTAWA -- The Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development is monitoring the allegations the Liberal government tried to influence a criminal prosecution against SNC-Lavalin to determine whether Canada is violating its commitment to an international anti-bribery convention.
The OECD's working group on bribery said in a statement Monday that it is "concerned" by accusations that Trudeau and staff in his office tried to get former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to let the Quebec engineering giant negotiate a remediation agreement rather than pursue the firm on criminal charges of bribery and fraud.
It's particularly keeping an eye on the twin federal investigations of the allegations, the group said, including one by the House of Commons justice committee that is to continue this week.
SNC-Lavalin is accused of bribing Libyan officials between 2001 and 2011 to win business there.
Canada is one of 44 nations that in 1999 signed the legally binding Anti-Bribery Convention, which established international standards to criminalize the bribery of foreign officials so nations would punish their own citizens and companies for trying to undermine governments elsewhere.
The working group monitors the implementation and enforcement of the convention. It wrote to the Prime Minister's Office to express its concerns about the SNC-Lavalin matter and says it is interested in the investigations by the justice committee and the federal ethics commissioner. It says Canada has pledged to update the group on the matter at the working group's June meeting.
The statement says Canada's commitment under the convention is to "prosecutorial independence in foreign bribery cases," and that political factors such as national economic interests and the identities of the company or individuals involved should have no influence on the prosecution.
Adam Austen, a spokesman for Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, said Canada "firmly supports" the OECD and noted Canada was a founding country in the Anti-Bribery Convention.
"We acknowledge the concerns raised today by the OECD working group on bribery," he said in a written statement. "We will continue to work with and update the working group on the robust and independent domestic processes currently underway in Canada, which the working group has recognized and encouraged."
The thrust of the controversy surrounds a decision by the director of public prosecutions not to use a new law in Canada to put off a criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin in favour of a remediation agreement (also sometimes called a deferred-prosecution agreement). Under such an agreement the firm would admit wrongdoing, pay financial penalties and allow outside monitoring, and if it fulfilled its end of the agreement the prosecution would eventually be dropped.
As attorney general, Wilson-Raybould could have ordered prosecutors to pursue such an agreement or taken over the prosecution and done it herself, but she elected to do neither.
Wilson-Raybould says multiple people from Trudeau's office, the finance minister's office and the Privy Council Office all put sustained, improper pressure on her to change her mind and she believes she was shuffled out as attorney general in January because she wouldn't.
Trudeau and his staff say their only concern was for SNC-Lavalin's 9,000 jobs, which might be at risk if the company were convicted and then barred from bidding on federal contracts for up to 10 years. They deny exerting any improper influence on Wilson-Raybould and say she did not get shuffled over it.
Wilson-Raybould resigned Feb. 12. Jane Philpott, her close friend and cabinet ally, followed suit March 4, citing lost confidence in how the matter had been handled by the prime minister's office. Trudeau's principal secretary, Gerald Butts, resigned his own post Feb. 18. He said last week he resigned not because he had done anything wrong but because he felt if he stayed on after Wilson-Raybould resigned it would look as though Trudeau had chosen him, a longtime friend, over a minister.
Last week Trudeau blamed the problem on a breakdown in trust between Wilson-Raybould and his office and committed to hiring outside experts to advise the government on interactions between political and public-service staff on justice files.
The justice committee has already heard from 10 witnesses, including Wilson-Raybould and Butts, and is set to meet again Wednesday to discuss additional witnesses to call.
Conservative MP Michael Cooper said he wants to call other Trudeau advisers Wilson-Raybould named as people who approached her on the SNC-Lavalin matter.
But Cooper said the chief desire is for Wilson-Raybould to be brought back to answer questions that arose from Butts's testimony. The Conservatives say the waiver of solicitor-client privilege and cabinet secrecy that Trudeau issued to allow Wilson-Raybould to speak is limiting and that she should be allowed to also answer questions about why she resigned from cabinet and what she subsequently told the cabinet in a meeting after that resignation.
"Clearly as a matter of fairness we need to hear from Jody Wilson-Raybould," Cooper said. "There's more questions now than ever."
None of the Liberal committee members responded to Canadian Press inquiries Monday. They hold a majority on the committee.
Liberal strategist Amanda Alvaro, president of the Toronto communications firm Pomp & Circumstance, said there is no benefit to bringing Wilson-Raybould back.
"She had unprecedented time to answer all the questions put to her," Alvaro said.
She said if Wilson-Raybould is brought back to respond to what Butts said, then Butts might have to be asked back to respond to her, and the cycle might never stop. She said there is now a reasonable understanding of what happened and demanding Wilson-Raybould reappear is more about continuing the drama than trying to get more information.