The SNC-Lavalin scandal: Here's what's true and what's false


Trudeau a menti en plein débat sur les conclusions du commissaire à l'éthique

The leaders’ debate produced one moment of surreal political theatre when Conservative leader Andrew Scheer accused Justin Trudeau of lying to Canadians when the SNC-Lavalin allegations first surfaced.

“You looked Canadians in the eye and told Canadians that the allegations in the Globe and Mail were false,” Scheer said to Trudeau. To which the Liberal leader replied: “They were false.”

This will surprise the ethics commissioner who ruled otherwise. And after the commissioner’s ruling Trudeau said: “We recognize the way that this happened shouldn’t have happened. I take responsibility for the mistakes that I made.” There are many scandals associated with the SNC-Lavalin saga, Vanmala Subramaniam and Stuart Thomson look at the top five.

Bribing the Gadhafi regime

The Montreal construction giant stands accused of two major crimes related to its association with the Gadhafi regime — paying $48 million in bribes to Libyan government officials, and defrauding the Libyan government and other entities of “property, money or valuable security or service” worth $130 million.

The corporation itself was charged by the RCMP in February 2015, but the charges stem from shady dealings involving a number of SNC employees years prior, particularly one Riadh Ben Aissa, an old acquaintance of Gadhafi’s son Saadi.

“My dear friend, make sure that this project will be ours,” wrote Ben Aissa to Saadi regarding a construction contract in Libya, according to a June 2009 email obtained from Swiss authorities by the Financial Post, back in 2015.

My dear friend, make sure that this project will be ours


An RCMP search warrant document (which this paper fought to get unsealed in 2013) revealed Ben Aissa, then vice-president of SNC was paying tens of millions in bribes to Gadhafi’s son in exchange for lucrative contracts the company would land in Libya. The bribes paid for luxury yachts including the famous Hokulani superyacht worth approximately $40 million today, and lavish decorations for a Toronto penthouse suite worth $200,000.

All this was taking place in the years leading up to and during Libya’s first civil war, which saw the country torn apart by violence and political instability that eventually resulted in the capturing and killing of Moammar Gadhafi in October 2011. Although based in Montreal for SNC at one point, Ben Aissa was never charged in Canada, and spent three years in a Swiss jail on corruption charges.

The former executive, along with ex-SNC controller Stephane Roy, was also involved in an alleged plot to smuggle Gadhafi and his family out of Libya, to Mexico in 2011, when NATO-backed opposition forces in Libya appeared to be closing in on Gadhafi’s reign. Roy was charged in 2014, but years of delays by the prosecution led to the case being thrown out by a Quebec court this past February.

Anti-Gadhafi fighters celebrate in the streets after routing the last remaining forces loyal to Col. Moammar Gadhafi from the town of Sirte, Libya, Oct. 20, 2011. Mauricio Lima/The New York Times

The Denials

When the SNC-Lavalin affair first broke in the pages of the Globe and Mail on Feb. 7, Justin Trudeau was unequivocal in his denial.

“The allegations in the Globe story this morning are false,” he said. “Neither the current nor the previous attorney general was ever directed by me nor anyone in my office to take a decision in this matter.”

That denial was about as emphatic as they come and Liberals will still make the lawyerly case that former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould wasn’t technically “directed” to offer a deferred prosecution agreement to SNC-Lavalin. But then, that was never the allegation. Canadians soon learned, through Wilson-Raybould’s testimony and a subsequent report from Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion, that the attorney general was subjected to months of questions, suggestions and pressure about the case.

The months of meetings and phone calls involved Trudeau himself, his top advisers and other staffers and even Finance Minister Bill Morneau and his advisers.

It all culminated in a late-December phone call in which then-Privy Council Clerk Michael Wernick said Trudeau “is going to find a way to get it done one way or another” and told Wilson-Raybould that Trudeau “is in that kinda mood, and I wanted you to be aware of that.”

It took months for Trudeau to acknowledge that Wilson-Raybould had raised the alarm bell to him personally. Despite what he said at the leaders’ debate Monday, of late when SNC is raised Trudeau simply says that he’ll never apologize for sticking up for Canadian jobs.

In this file photo taken on February 27, 2019 former Canadian Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould arrives to give her testimony about the SNC-Lavalin affair before a justice committee hearing on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. LARS HAGBERG/AFP/Getty Images

The firing of Jody Wilson Raybould and Jane Philpott

When Trudeau unveiled Canada’s first gender-balanced cabinet in 2015, Wilson-Raybould was appointed justice minister and attorney general. “Please know that you can count on me to support you every day in your role as Minister,” Trudeau wrote to Wilson-Raybould in her mandate letter.

But as pressure grew on the attorney general to give SNC-Lavalin a deferred prosecution agreement in a corruption case, Wilson-Raybould found that support lacking.

Eventually, in January 2019, after months of refusing to bend on SNC, she was shuffled out of that role and into Veterans Affairs.

A month later, on February 11, Trudeau once again faced questions over SNC and whether the AG was pressured. Denying the allegations, he said, “Her presence in cabinet should actually speak for itself.”

Hours later Wilson-Raybould resigned from cabinet.

The next day, Trudeau said if anyone had felt pressured they should have come to him. “If anybody felt differently, they had an obligation to raise that with me. No one, including Jody, did that,” he said.

But weeks later Wilson-Raybould testified that is exactly what she did. On Sept 16, 2018, during a meeting with the prime minister and the Clerk of the Privy Council, they began talking about SNC and a deferred prosecution agreement, she said.

There was an election in Quebec, said Trudeau, “And I am an MP in Quebec—the member for Papineau.”

“I was quite taken aback,” Wilson-Raybould testified. “My response—and I vividly remember this as well—was to ask the prime minister a direct question, while looking him in the eye. I asked, ‘Are you politically interfering with my role/my decision as the attorney general? I would strongly advise against it’.”

In March, one of Trudeau’s most trusted ministers, Jane Philpott, resigned from cabinet citing a loss of confidence in how the prime minister and his office had handled the SNC affair.

Days later, Trudeau fired both Wilson-Raybould and Philpott from the Liberal party.

Both are running as independent candidates.

Independent MPs Jane Philpott and Jody Wilson-Raybould vote in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, April 9, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

The Ethics Report

In mid-August Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion dropped a 63-page report that shook up the sleepy summer political scene with its conclusion that Trudeau broke the country’s conflict of interest laws.

It’s the second time since Trudeau took office in 2015 that he has breached ethics rules, with the first relating to his visit to the Aga Khan’s private island.

Dion said the prime minister had breached the rules by “improperly” furthering the interests of SNC-Lavalin. Decisions by the attorney general were supposed to be free of political considerations, but it was clear that Trudeau and the people around him “viewed the matter chiefly through a political lens to manage a legal issue,” wrote Dion.

The House of Commons ethics committee quickly convened, with opposition members hoping to invite the commissioner to appear before them. Although the Dion was waiting to appear via videoconference, the Liberal majority on the committee rejected the idea.

Although Trudeau argued that he had never “directed” Wilson-Raybould to do anything, Dion said that didn’t matter because Trudeau’s actions added up to “direction,” either way.

Interim public sector integrity commissioner Mario Dion waits to appear before the Commons estimates committee on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

The Obstruction

The report by Dion opened up a whole new scandal, even before it got into the details of the SNC-Lavalin affair.

“During this examination, nine witnesses informed our office that they had information they believed to be relevant, but that could not be disclosed because” it would breach cabinet confidence, the report reads.

After weeks of discussion about the issue, Dion said his office was “at an impasse over access to cabinet confidences,” so he raised the issue with Trudeau.

The prime minister, through legal counsel, said he would look into it and consult with the Privy Council Office. After waiting nearly a month, Dion went straight to the Privy Council Office, without any resolution.

This month, hours before the writ dropped in the federal election, it was reported that the RCMP was looking into potential obstruction of justice as it ran into similar difficulties regarding Cabinet confidence.