Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been embroiled in a huge controversy involving Montreal based engineering and construction services company, SNC-Lavalin, and former Minister of Justice and Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould.
On February 15, 2015, the RCMP charged SNC-Lavalin on several counts of fraud and corruption for its attempts to bribe the Libyan government to land important contracts. While charges were being laid for this specific case, the company has been accused of bribery in a number of other occasions including the Bangladesh Padma Bridge and Montreal’s Jacques-Cartier Bridge. If found guilty, the company would not be able to participate in bidding on Canadian government projects for 10 years which would have drastically lowered the company’s revenue. About a year ago, when the Liberal government was drafting a budget bill, it included an amendment to the Criminal Code known as a Deferred Prosecution Agreement. This would function similar to that of a plea bargain where the accused corporation could avoid criminal charges by paying reparations. SNC-Lavalin lobbied for this as the provision would allow for it to continue bidding for Canadian projects. However, the prosecution would be the one to make the decision of whether to negotiate such an agreement with the firm, and in this case, it chose not to and would follow through with the criminal trial proceedings.
As Attorney General, Raybould had the authority to direct the prosecution service to negotiate an agreement with the company, however, she refused to do so and upheld the prosecution’s decision. Later this January, Trudeau changed her position to Minister of Veterans Affairs. According to reports, she was pressured to overrule the decision and negotiate an agreement and her lack of cooperation was one of the reasons for her change in position. Raybould later on resigned from her position in February whereas Trudeau still maintained that there was no pressure put on her. Towards the end of the month, the Prime Minister waived his solicitor-client privilege which allowed Raybould to testify in front of the justice committee.
In her testimony, she mentioned that she was constantly pressured by Trudeau’s office. At one point, Trudeau and the Clerk of the Privy Council, Michael Wernick, mentioned the economic challenges when the province would lose thousands of jobs if an agreement was not made. In addition, the Prime Minister is an MP in a riding in Montreal, which would be major conflict of interest in this case due to the upcoming federal elections. The opposition’s reaction ranged from a condemnation of Trudeau’s actions to calls for his resignation. With these serious allegations, Trudeau has stated that he “completely disagreed” with Raybould’s version of events. While the investigation into this whole situation is not complete, it is seemingly becoming more reminiscent of the infamous Watergate Scandal which caused President Richard Nixon to resign.