'Justice system did its work': Current, former AGs react to SNC-Lavalin guilty plea
OTTAWA -- Federal Attorney General and Justice Minister David Lametti says the agreement between the Public Prosecution Service of Canada and SNC-Lavalin’s legal counsel to have the Quebec-based construction firm plead guilty to a single count of fraud over $5,000 and pay a $280-million fine was “made independently.”
In a statement responding to the development in the case that was at the centre of a months-long scandal for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government and his predecessor Jody Wilson-Raybould, Lametti said the decision was reached as part of the Director of Public Prosecution’s office’s “responsibility to continually assess and determine the appropriate path for cases under their jurisdiction.”
Wilson-Raybould, the former attorney general and justice minister, tweeted that “the justice system did its work” and that “accountability was achieved.”
The now Independent MP who quit Trudeau’s cabinet and was then removed from the Liberal caucus earlier this year during the months-long affair had testified and presented various oral, written, and audio submissions in an effort to back up her allegations that she was improperly pressured by Trudeau officials to make a deal in the corruption and fraud case against SNC-Lavalin to ensure it could continue bidding on government contracts.
“I have long believed in the essential necessity of our judicial system operating as it should—based on the rule of law and prosecutorial independence, and without political interference or pressure,” Wilson-Raybould said Wednesday.
“Ultimately, that system was able to do its work—as democracy and good governance requires—and an outcome was reached today. Accountability was achieved.”
In an interview with The Canadian Press, Trudeau said that his government “could have, should have, would have” done things differently “had we known all sorts of different aspects,” of the political and legal saga.
Wilson-Raybould said that 2019 began with questions about the rule of law in Canada, and that she is “glad to see it end with that principle being upheld.”
“It is time to move forward,” she said.
In a statement, Director of Public Prosecutions Kathleen Roussel thanked her prosecutorial team “for their dedicated work on this very challenging case, in the face of unprecedented public attention.”
The justice minister said he was informed by Roussel about the agreement to resolve the criminal proceedings against SNC-Lavalin on Tuesday, and that “Canadians can have confidence that our judicial and legal systems are working as they should.” Throughout the scandal Trudeau asserted that he and his staff did not act inappropriately, though this summer the federal ethics commissioner found that Trudeau breached ethics rules in pursuit of influencing Wilson-Raybould.
Lametti was appointed as Wilson-Raybould’s replacement in January and has since faced questions about whether or not he would be seeking what’s called a deferred prosecution or remediation agreement to see the firm avoid criminal prosecution and in turn, avoid the risk of job losses as the result of what could have been a 10-year ban on federal contracts.
The construction division of the company will have five years to pay the fine and will be on probation for three years. In return, prosecutors will withdraw other corruption-related charges against SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. and its international marketing arm, SNC-Lavalin International Inc. related to work the company did in Libya between 2001 and 2011.
Throughout the affair Trudeau cited a desire to protect the jobs of SNC-Lavalin employees, pensioners, and others who would be negatively impacted by contracts drying up.
"This process unfolded in an independent way and we got to an outcome that seems positive for everyone involved, particularly for the workers," Trudeau told The Canadian Press.
In a statement, SNC-Lavalin President and Chief Executive Officer, Ian L. Edwards, called the development in the case a “game-changer” and apologized for the past misconduct.
The company says that the settlement “mitigates uncertainty” and “does not anticipate that the guilty plea by a construction subsidiary... will affect the eligibility of SNC-Lavalin Group companies to bid on future projects."
Conservative justice critic Rob Moore said that despite this outcome, “Trudeau needs to answer for his role in the SNC-Lavalin corruption scandal.”
Similarly, NDP ethics critic Charlie Angus said that while the court system worked the way it should independent of political interferences, “this is not over with the prime minister.”
“The one thing about court cases is they are about establishing precedence, so this sends a message to corporate Canada that international corruption and bribery will have consequences. Our prime minister doesn’t seem to think that there were consequences for him,” Angus told CTVNews.ca in an interview.
“Attempting to interfere in the prosecution in this case is a very disturbing precedent that we still, I believe, the answers need to be given from this Prime Minister, and we haven't gotten those answers yet.”
This development in the case comes on the same day that The Canadian Press announced it was naming Wilson-Raybould the newsmaker of the year, citing her central role in the SNC-Lavalin scandal and subsequent reelection as the only independent in this parliament as factors.
With files from CTV News Montreal