Trudeau government rocked by scandal: A Different Law for SNC Lavalin?

by Gary Porter

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau often brags about his “feminism” and his devotion to indigenous rights in Canada. His surprising demotion of Jody Wilson-Raybould (JWR) from Justice Minister to Veterans Affairs Minister, and her subsequent resignation from the Federal Liberal cabinet made a mockery of his claims, and raised eyebrows across Canada. Wilson-Raybould, a respected Indigenous lawyer, is reputedly a champion of good governance and accountability. Her crime was to take her job seriously.

The Globe and Mail revealed that the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and Trudeau himself pushed the Justice Minister to allow SNC Lavalin, a Montreal-based mega corporation, to negotiate a Deferred Prosecution Agreement instead of SNC facing charges of fraud and corruption in court. One might ask, why, in the first place, was legislation permitting such an escape clause for corrupt corporations approved by Parliament on September 18, 2018? And why was it made to apply retroactively to criminal charges in progress? Needless to say, SNC lobbied hard for the new act. Wilson-Raybould’s apparent refusal to accede to demands by the PM, choosing instead to do her job, meant she just had to go.

On February 27, Wilson-Raybould shocked many observers with her testimony before the House of Commons Justice Committee. Trudeau, under great pressure, had just lifted the constraints of client solicitor privilege and cabinet confidentiality. JWR revealed that between early September 2018 and at least January 2019, Finance Minister Bill Morneau, Prime Minister Trudeau and senior staff persistently urged her, even in a threatening way, to reverse the decision of her chief prosecutor not to offer a Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA) to SNC Lavalin. JWR warned Trudeau that this pressure was in violation of the independence of the judiciary and subverted the rule of law. She advised them to cease, but they did not. She explained that as a lawyer who had seen how the law and judicial independence have been applied selectively to Indigenous people, she swore it would not occur on her watch.

SNC Lavalin employs 52,000 people worldwide. It reaps $10 billion USD annually in revenue from its global project management and infrastructure construction and operations business. SNC is considered by Canadian capitalism to be “too big to fail”.

The unfolding scandal has tarnished the image of Trudeau.  It may even topple the government. But deeper lies the lesson. Myths about respect for the rule of law and the independence of Canada’s ‘justice’ system have taken a beating. These myths underpin the social contract according to which private corporations obtain natural resources, social infrastructure such as energy, transportation and communications systems, and the labour of millions, supposedly in exchange for creating wealth to the benefit of society as a whole.

Part of the bargain is that the vast surpluses created by labour during this process are appropriated by private owners who operate under laws which supposedly enforce fairness and regulate the greed into which unregulated masters would otherwise sink.

SNC Lavalin has a long history of anti-competitive, anti-market practices and other insidious acts. This behaviour is not limited to foreign jurisdictions where, according to arrogant racists, corruption is the norm. SNC executives were found guilty of making illegal payments to obtain huge contracts to build the Jacques Cartier Bridge in Montreal and the McGill University Health Centre.

Canadians are taught that in a liberal capitalist democracy, politicians do not interfere in the even-handed application of reasonable laws. We are assured that politics and politicians cannot corrupt the Canadian justice system. In truth, the only thing that is never violated under capitalism is the soulless drive by owners and bosses to maximize private profit, however corrupt and destructive their behaviour is.

Apologists for Trudeau and the unelected bureaucrats of the PMO insist that SNC Lavalin must be saved. Think of those 9,000 jobs situated in Canada and the families involved. But corporations and their executives who violate the public trust, abuse their wealth, and misallocate social resources should lose their freedom and their wealth. A truly ‘just’ society would jail the criminal executives and expropriate SNC Lavalin, so that those who do the hard, honest work can run this massive enterprise in the public interest.