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5 things you might have missed in the ethics commissioner's SNC-Lavalin report
OTTAWA – After months of investigating, interviewing key players, and consulting relevant documents, federal ethics commissioner Mario Dion released a damning report on his probe into Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the SNC-Lavalin scandal yesterday.
His conclusion was that Trudeau both directly and indirectly sought to influence his once justice minister and attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould’s decision on whether to cut a deal that would see the Quebec-based construction and engineering giant avoid a criminal prosecution.
As a result, Dion found Trudeau to have contravened the Conflict of Interest Act, the second time since he’s been in office.
That main finding on its own brought an onslaught of political reaction, but there are other new details that the report brought to light that you may have missed, here’s CTVNews.ca’s rundown.
1) Witnesses 'constrained', PCO denied access
The investigation was launched in February and Dion continued to receive new information up until mid-July. Over the course of his probe he received evidence from 14 people and interviewed Trudeau, Wilson-Raybould, Finance Minister Bill Morneau, senior PMO advisors Elder Marques and Mathieu Bouchard, deputy minister of justice and deputy attorney general Nathalie Drouin, and then-Privy Council Office (PCO) Clerk Michael Wernick.
Though, nine witnesses came forward with information they felt was relevant–but could not disclose–because they felt it would breach cabinet confidence and fell outside of the scope of the Order in Council that Trudeau granted, to allow players to talk, under certain terms, to Dion.
Dion raised this directly with Trudeau, and pushed the new PCO Clerk Ian Shugart to grant him access to all cabinet confidences related to the investigation, but his request was denied. Trudeau’s legal counsel said that decision was made without PMO’s involvement but Dion feels that he wasn’t able to get a full investigative picture of the situation.
“Decisions that affect my jurisdiction under the Act, by setting parameters on my ability to receive evidence, should be made transparently and democratically by Parliament, not by the very same public office holders who are subject to the regime I administer,” he wrote in his report.
2) Trudeau 'puzzled' SNC-Lavalin wasn’t getting DPA
Dion spends considerable portions of the report laying out the series of already well-explored meetings between some combination of Wilson-Raybould, senior PMO staff, officials in Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s office, and SNC-Lavalin executives. What was already known was that SNC-Lavalin had been lobbying Trudeau and his government to adopt a remediation agreement regime, the report states that began in early 2016.
There was ultimately a public consultation held that found a majority of Canadians supported the idea, and it was then quietly tucked into an omnibus budget bill.
The bill was studied, with the remediation agreement section considered separately—without Wilson-Raybould’s input despite her hesitations—and was supported and passed by the Parliament, opposition members included.
Once the remediation agreement was in place, and the director of public prosecutions said she was not pursuing one in the SNC-Lavalin case, Trudeau testified to Dion that he was “puzzled,” in Dion’s words, because “SNC-Lavalin was precisely the kind of candidate for which the remediation agreement regime was designed,” and was concerned that it may set a precedent for future cases.
3) Ex-Supreme Court justices were involved 'unbeknownst' to AG
During her House of Commons testimony, Wilson-Raybould had said PMO officials had suggested she get outside legal advice on whether or not her intervening in and directing the director of public prosecutions to take the remediation agreement approach would be appropriate in SNC-Lavalin’s case.
The suggestion was that she ask “someone like” former Supreme Court chief justice Beverley McLachlin to weigh in, but “unbeknownst” to her until Dion informed her during his investigation, both a senior PMO aide and SNC-Lavalin had spoken to McLachlin about providing her insight. According to Dion, McLachlin said she would meet with Wilson-Raybould, but had hesitations.
“According to Mr. Bouchard's notes of that conversation, Ms. McLachlin had expressed to Mr. Iacobucci some reservations about her possible involvement. She was no longer a lawyer and could not offer legal advice. She would also require a proper briefing. Mr. Bouchard also noted that Ms. McLachlin would need to be invited by the Attorney General; Ms. McLachlin did not want to be retained by the Government of Canada,” Dion wrote.
As well, legal opinions from two other former Supreme Court justices retained by SNC-Lavalin had been reviewed by the PMO and other ministerial offices. These were the opinions of SNC-Lavalin’s legal counsel Frank Iacobucci, and John Major, who on the request of Iacobucci, also offered his thoughts.
Ms. Wilson-Raybould testified that she did not see Mr. Iacobucci's or Mr. Major's opinions, nor was she made aware of their content.
4) Didn’t factor Wilson-Raybould’s refusal to share info with cabinet
One aspect Dion said that he did not consider in his study was Wilson-Raybould’s relationship with her colleagues, or her shuffle into the veterans affairs portfolio that occurred just prior to the scandal breaking, saying those aspects were “immaterial.”
Dion said Trudeau’s legal team also argued that Wilson-Raybould’s decision making was inadequate, “infected by legal misunderstanding and political motivation,” and that her shuffle had “coloured her perception of prior events,” but he didn’t seem to buy any of that.
One example they provided to bolster their view that there was “significant friction” between Wilson-Raybould and the PMO, as well as with cabinet, was when she once refused to share information with cabinet, as part of a recommendation to cabinet.
“To them, this was an example of how Ms. Wilson-Raybould felt that cooperation or collaboration with Mr. Trudeau's office and the rest of Cabinet was not something that she was required to do or even should do,” Dion wrote.
In response, Wilson-Raybould said she was pleased that the commissioner wasn’t “distracted by inaccurate information about the events or about me personally.” She called it “vindication.”
Jane Philpott—her fellow cabinet minister-turned Independent MP—was not named once in Dion’s report, but said it “speaks for itself regarding actions of the prime minister.”
5) Trudeau's lawyers said he can’t be 'vicariously liable'
Starting in March, Trudeau sent a written statement, did an interview May 3, and submitted further documents, and supplemental submission as late as July 16. On July 19, 2019, Mr. Trudeau was provided with an opportunity to comment on a draft of the factual portions of this report.
In submissions to Dion on Trudeau’s behalf, his legal team argued that his central concern in the SNC-Lavalin case was about public interest and not the political or corporate consequences. Trudeau’s reference to being an MP from a Montreal riding in one conversation was about emphasizing to Wilson-Raybould the real communities impacted by her decision not to intervene, his lawyers offered. The prime minister’s legal counsel also said that Trudeau cannot be “vicariously liable” for the actions of his staff.
Hours later, Trudeau told reporters that while he disagrees with some of Dion’s findings, he accepts them and takes full responsibility for “everything that happened,” but stopped short of apologizing.