As the Liberal government descends into full-blown crisis, Conservatives could take some satisfaction that this is all happening in part because of a long-ago measure they implemented precisely to catch Liberal scandals.
In 2006, one of the first actions of the new government of Stephen Harper was the Director of Public Prosecutions Act, a measure designed to prevent future occurrences of the Sponsorship Scandal. Now, that act is at the centre of events apparently showing an attempt by the government of Justin Trudeau to halt a criminal prosecution for political reasons.
“Gerry (Gerald Butts, former principal secretary to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau) talked to me about how the statute was set up by Harper (and) that he does not like the law,” former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould said in Wednesday testimony before the House of Commons justice committee.
“I said something like ‘That is the law we have.’”
Wilson-Raybould said she was subjected to “hounding” and then ultimately shuffled out of her job as Attorney General because she failed to stop a criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin, a Montreal construction and engineering firm accused of bribing the government of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
Specifically, Wilson-Raybould refused to overrule the Director of Public Prosecutions, an independent office created by the 2006 act in order to prevent political interference in criminal prosecutions.
Previously, Canadian attorneys general had full discretion over which criminal cases were pursued and which were abandoned. Since the Attorney General is also a sitting cabinet member, the door was left open for easy – and quiet – political meddling in the judicial process.
The 2006 act created an independent prosecution service shielded from interference. The Attorney General can still overrule the director, but any such decision has to be publicly announced.
Early #ThrowbackThursday. April 12, 2006 'Harper aims to limit political control of judicial system: Independence seen with public prosecutor office' cc @stephenharper @Baird #cdnpoli #LavScam #Trudeauresign #TrudeauCoverUp #TrudeauMustGo #TrudeauMustResign #Resign #ResignTrudeau
Wilson-Raybould has done this in other cases, such as in November when she advised prosecutors to drop criminal charges in certain cases of people having sex without informing their partners of their HIV positive status. In the case of SNC-Lavalin, Wilson-Raybould decided it was “not appropriate” to overrule the director despite repeated requests to do so.
“I explained to (Trudeau) the law and what I have the ability to do and not do under the Director of Public Prosecutions Act,” Wilson-Raybould said Wednesday. “I told him that I had done my due diligence and made up my mind … that I was not going to interfere with the decision of the (director of public prosecution).”
The act was a direct response to the Sponsorship Scandal, an eight-year program in which federal monies were funnelled to Liberal-aligned contractors in exchange for little to no work. Ostensibly, the cash was being used to fund advertising in Quebec to promote the benefits of Canada and dissuade separatist sentiments.
Adding to the scandal was the sense that political interference had hampered the prosecution of those responsible. An independent prosecution service was suggested as a way to ward off future scandals.
“The reason (the Director of Public Prosecutions Act) was proposed in the last election — and I’m not afraid to say it — is that a lot of people were confused about the fact that a number of advertising agencies were pursued with legal action when one organization, which was clearly at the centre of the same scandal and benefited directly from it without any question whatsoever … was not,” Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre said in 2006.
The Sponsorship Scandal had a major role in the 2006 victory of a Conservative minority government, particularly given the Tories’ campaign promise to clean up political corruption. “Bend the rules, you will be punished; break the law, you will be charged; abuse the public trust, you will go to prison,” Stephen Harper said at the time.