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Read the full report: The ethics commissioner said the evidence 'abundantly shows that Mr. Trudeau knowingly sought to influence Ms. Wilson-Raybould'
OTTAWA — For the second time in less than two years, Canada’s ethics watchdog has ruled Prime Minister Justin Trudeau violated the Conflict of Interest Act — this time for improperly pressuring the attorney general to intervene in the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin and help the company avoid a trial.
In a scorching 63-page report that reveals new details about the SNC-Lavalin affair, Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion concluded the prime minister directed high-level government pressure on then Justice Minister and Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould to overrule the federal prosecution service and offer SNC-Lavalin a “remediation agreement” — effectively an out-of-court settlement that avoids a criminal conviction.
The Montreal-based engineering giant is accused of paying $48 million in bribes to officials in the government of Muammar Gaddafi and defrauding Libyan organizations of $130 million.
Trudeau has argued SNC deserved the chance for a remediation agreement in order to protect Canadian workers, even though the federal prosecution service had already decided to proceed with a trial.
Dion called the tactics “troubling,” and said the evidence “abundantly shows that Mr. Trudeau knowingly sought to influence Ms. Wilson-Raybould both directly and through the actions of his agents.”
“As prime minister, Mr. Trudeau was the only public office holder who, by virtue of his position, could clearly exert influence over Ms. Wilson‑Raybould,” the report said. “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.”
Please read my statement on the report by the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner: https://t.co/Cd16Ji3mEf— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) August 14, 2019
It concluded Trudeau violated section 9 of the Conflict of Interest Act, which says public office holders are prohibited from using their position to seek to influence a decision to improperly further the private interests of a third party. However, the commissioner does not have the power to impose a penalty.
“Because SNC‑Lavalin overwhelmingly stood to benefit from Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s intervention, I have no doubt that the result of Mr. Trudeau’s influence would have furthered SNC-Lavalin’s interests. The actions that sought to further these interests were improper since the actions were contrary to the constitutional principles of prosecutorial independence and the rule of law,” the report says.
Dion’s report also said he was denied access to sensitive government information by Privy Council Clerk Ian Shugart.
“During this examination, nine witnesses informed our office that they had information they believed to be relevant, but that could not be disclosed because, according to them, this information would reveal a (cabinet) confidence,” he wrote in the report.
“In a letter dated June 13, 2019, the clerk of the Privy Council declined my request for access to all cabinet confidences in respect of this examination. Mr. Trudeau’s legal counsel indicated that the decision on whether to expand the waiver was made by the Privy Council Office without the involvement of the prime minister or his office.”
The scandal, which erupted Feb. 7 after the Globe and Mail reported the allegation of improper pressure on Wilson-Raybould, has rocked Trudeau’s government for much of the year. Trudeau lost two high-profile cabinet ministers, Wilson-Raybould and Treasury Board president Jane Philpott, who both resigned and then were kicked out of the caucus. His principal secretary and close friend Gerald Butts resigned on Feb. 18, saying he had done nothing wrong but didn’t want to be a distraction. (Butts has since joined the Liberal re-election campaign as an unpaid adviser.) Privy Council Clerk Michael Wernick announced his early retirement on March 18 after opposition parties accused him of partisan testimony over the SNC-Lavalin affair.
When the Globe story broke, Trudeau told reporters it was “false.” Over the following months, he repeatedly insisted that he and his staff did nothing wrong.
On Wednesday, speaking from an an event in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., Trudeau said he accepts Dion’s report but also disagrees with some parts of it. He did not directly answer when asked if any of his staff would be punished.
“Even though I disagree with some of his conclusions, I fully accept this report and take responsibility for everything that happened,” he said. “Where I disagree with the commissioner, amongst others, is where he says, and takes a strong perspective, that any contact with the (attorney general) on this issue was improper.”
Trudeau said he made mistakes, but didn’t go into detail. “We recognize that the way this happened shouldn’t have happened. I take responsibility for the mistakes that I made,” he said.
“I think we recognize that what was done over the past year, as we tried to both defend judicial independence, of prosecutorial independence, and stand up for Canadian jobs and workers, wasn’t exactly the the right way to do things,” Trudeau said. “And we thank the ethics commissioner for the hard work that he did in highlighting that.”
He also defended the Privy Council Office’s refusal to grant a further waiver of cabinet confidence, calling the decision “an important one that maintains the integrity of our institutions and our capacity to function as a government without setting troublesome or worrisome precedents.”
Wilson-Raybould called the report “a vindication of the independent role of the attorney general and of the director of public prosecutions in criminal prosecutions — and reinforces for Canadians how essential it is for our democracy to uphold the rule of law and prosecutorial independence.”
“I also have feelings of sadness,” Wilson-Raybould said in her statement, adding that Canada’s “essential values and principles” should always be upheld by those in positions of public trust. She said the report confirms “critical facts,” and said Dion was “not distracted by inaccurate information about the events or about me personally — and drew conclusions based on the true facts about what occurred.”
The report takes a deep dive into what happened as SNC-Lavalin first successfully lobbied the government to establish a deferred prosecution option — but was then denied it by Director of Public Prosecutions Kathleen Roussel. It reveals that SNC-Lavalin had, without Wilson-Raybould’s knowledge, sought legal opinions from two former Supreme Court justices and shared those opinions with the Prime Minister’s Office and “other ministerial offices.”
It also says that both SNC-Lavalin and the PMO had approached former Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin “to participate in the matter,” again without Wilson-Raybould’s knowledge.
And the report says “senior officials under the direction of Mr. Trudeau continued to engage both with SNC‑Lavalin’s legal counsel and, separately, with Ms. Wilson-Raybould and her ministerial staff to influence her decision, even after SNC-Lavalin had filed an application for a judicial review of the director of public prosecutions’ decision.”
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said he believes the report justifies an RCMP investigation. “Justin Trudeau is guilty again,” Scheer said, pointing to the 2017 ethics investigation that found Trudeau had improperly accepted a gift from the Aga Khan to vacation on his private island.
“What we have now is a clear picture (of) who Justin Trudeau truly is, and it’s not who he promised he would be,” Scheer said. “He promised he would be accountable and ethical. Instead, time and time again, he has used the power of his office to enrich himself, reward his friends and punish his critics.”
The RCMP said it is “examining this matter carefully with all available information and will take appropriate actions as required,” but otherwise declined comment.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh repeated his party’s call for a public inquiry.
“The deeper problem here is that we’re seeing that governments in Ottawa, whether it’s Liberal like the current one, or it’s Conservative, are working to make it easier for multi-millionaires and help their powerful friends, and making it harder for everyday people who need need to help,” Singh said.
Also on Wednesday, the government released a report by former Liberal cabinet minister Anne McLellan, who advised against splitting the role of the attorney general and justice minister as a way to avoid potential future conflicts of interest.
McLellan wrote that separating the two roles “would not remove the risk of pressure or direction from the prime minister or other members of cabinet.” The former justice minister also suggested creating a “detailed protocol” to guide future consultations between cabinet and the attorney general, but did not provide specifics.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019
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- Ethics watchdog says he was denied access to evidence in SNC-Lavalin affair