Ethics have Taken a Big Hit
Sep 25, 2019

In 2015, the Charbonneau Commission looking into potential corruption in the management of public construction contracts in Quebec, concluded that there was “widespread and deeply rooted corruption and collusion in the awarding of public construction contracts” in the Province of Quebec. Let’s “fast forward” to August 2019 when Mario Dion, the Ethics Commissioner who was appointed by Justin Trudeau in 2017, concluded that the PM had misused his authority to “circumvent, undermine and ultimately discredit” the decision of the director of public prosecutions not to offer a remediation agreement to SNC-Lavalin.

After spending more than 40 years focused on fighting financial and organized crime, what these two incidents highlight for me, is that we as a society have failed to hold our elected representatives to an appropriate standard of ethics, and that this failure to stamp out corruption is, according to a United Nations web site message, “a serious impediment to the rule of law and sustainable development.”

In the SNC Lavalin matter, we have a government arguing that they have an over-arching responsibility for promoting and protecting jobs. I will concede that this is an appropriate political mandate – provided it doesn’t contradict the rule of law. I would strongly argue that our Government has a greater responsibility to ensure that Canadian businesses are following the law and are not supporting countries whose governments are least able to manage endemic corruption.  

To fully understand the public outcry that should be forthcoming from the actions of SNC-Lavalin and the support from the Trudeau Government, let’s delve into the allegations against SNC.

1) Bangladesh: SNC-Lavalin was accused of bribing officials in the construction of the Padma Bridge, a US$1.2 billion project funded by the World Bank. The bank subsequently found that “road construction in Bangladesh [reflects] the costs of high-level corruption. Although charges against SNC-Lavalin in Canada were ultimately dropped, [its] international subsidiary – SNC-Lavalin Inc. – was barred from bidding on all future World Bank infrastructure projects for a period of 10 years.”

2) Libya: SNC-Lavalin was accused of paying $47.7 million in bribes to public officials, including Saadi Gadhafi, the son of Libya’s former dictator, for travel, hotels and escorts.

3) Montreal: SNC-Lavalin was part of the consortium that won the $1.3 billion contract to design and build the McGill University Health Centre’s Glen Site, and maintain it until 2044. Eventually under criminal investigation, a Quebec provincial police detective described it as “the biggest fraud and corruption investigation in Canadian history.”

A number of years ago, the RCMP developed a threat risk assessment to help define a true organized crime group. Interestingly, one of the most significant indicators was the ability to corrupt and exert power with threats and intimidation.

That indicator came to mind in 2018, when I was cautioned to be extremely careful about what I said regarding Arthur Porter, the former McGill University hospital administrator who was accused of accepting a $22.5-million bribe in connection with SNC-Lavalin winning the $1.3-billion contract. I was warned that SNC wields a lot of power.

Over the years, major organizations have argued that paying bribes is part of doing business, however, by adopting such an approach those organizations contribute to undermining critical public organizations, such as the judiciary, the executive and the civil service.

Additionally, the funds are in fact diverted away from public and private investment, away from employment and infrastructure, from health and education – and into the hands of kleptocrats.

When the Trudeau Government came to power in 2015, they promised to “refocus Canada’s development assistance on helping the poorest and most vulnerable, and supporting fragile states.” Sadly, this pronouncement can only be described as political speak.  

It has become abundantly evident that actions taken by the Trudeau Government in 2018 against then-Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould have been officially cited as interference in a judicial process. We witnessed how, under Trudeau’s leadership, numerous actors applied pressure to have the Attorney General abandon prosecution of SNC-Lavalin.

We must not forget that SNC-Lavalin VP Normand Morin was charged with violating the Elections Act for orchestrating a scheme between 2004 and 2011 to have employees donate to Federal parties – which SNC would then reimburse, bypassing the legal restrictions. It was revealed that $117,803 flowed from SNC-Lavalin to federal party coffers during that period (about $8,000 of that went to Conservatives, the rest to Liberals).

As for the the Ethics Commissioner’s report, Mario Dion pulled no punches and wrote a scathing report indicting the Prime Minister and key staff in the PMO’s office. He opined this was a clear attempt to interfere and therefore a violation of the Conflict of Interest Act. Dion pointed out that the PMO also deliberately withheld confidential cabinet documents from the Ethics Commission.

According to the International Monetary Fund, as much as $1.5 to $2 trillion in bribes circulate the globe annually – resulting in lost tax revenues and sustained poverty in countries desperate for economic growth.  

Canada has endeavoured to establish itself as a leader on the world stage, however what has transpired recently is clear evidence of what anti-corruption expert, James Cohen stated in February 2019: “Canada falling behind on fighting corruption abroad.” The Director at Transparency International Canada further stated: “If it’s said that corruption greases the wheels of bureaucracy, then apathy and cynicism pave the path for corruption.”

It’s time we hold our political leaders to account and stop enabling what happened in Quebec (as confirmed by the Charbonneau Commission, and more recently with British Columbia’s real estate and casino money laundering scandal).

What occurred in the SNC-Lavalin matter is unacceptable and if, as a society, we don’t demand corruption-free practices, corruption will prevail. It’s up to us.  

– Garry W.G. Clement is the former National Director for the RCMP’s Proceeds of Crime Program. He is currently President and CEO
of the Clement Advisory Group.