Global players like SNC-Lavalin are masters of corruption. They have a lengthy history of illicit payments to public officials and not just in Libya. The North African petro-state is just the most visible with alleged bribes of $48 million for the decade spanning 2001-2011. RCMP charges are pending. Other reported cases include Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Libya, Nigeria, Mozambique, Uganda, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Chile and Panama. SNC-Lavalin employees themselves admit, project budgets were regularly padded with hefty entries for “PCCs.” Wink, nod – “project consultation or commercial costs” meant bribes. SNC-Lavalin apologists argue “get real folks,” this is how business works in the corrupt global south.
Yet SNC-Lavalin also engaged in corruption at home, namely bribes to win the $1.3 billion contract to construct McGill University Health Centre with further charges pending related to the Jacques Cartier Bridge. Then there was the $117,000 in illegal political contributions mainly to the Liberal Party.
This sordid corporate history, however, is the backstory. Front and centre is a multi-facetted government scandal showing the fragility of some of Justin Trudeau’s most fervent claims. Feminism has taken a hit, with ex-Minister Wilson-Raybould – casually referred to as “Jody” – thrown under the bus. Trudeau claims “surprise and disappointment” at her actions with Ottawa rumours circulating that she was always “difficult.” Trudeau’s much vaunted commitment to Indigenous rights and shared governance is in tatters. Many indigenous activists are outraged at Wilson- Raybould’s demotion.
At the epicentre is the new law on “remediation agreements,” quietly tucked into an omnibus budget bill in June 2018, despite Trudeau’s commitment to fuller policy debate. The new law allows companies committing economic crimes to avoid criminal trials and instead negotiate “remediation agreements,” that is, hefty fines and promises of “new ethics frameworks.” It turns out SNC-Lavalin mounted an aggressive lobbying campaign for “remediation agreements” including 50 registered meetings and 14 meetings with PMO officials. When October court dates were announced, the corporate lobbying intensified. SNC-Lavalin sent open letters to major newspapers presenting its case. The Public Prosecution Service was lobbied to allow a “remediation agreement.” Director Kathleen Roussel, however, refused. Legally, the then AG could have overridden – but did not. Now resignations from the PM’s inner circle mounting and (at press time) rumours of enforced silence and cover-up still hang in the air. What conversations took place between Raybould- Wilson and Trudeau and his acolytes we may never learn?
Take-aways? The power games and corporate impunity permeating the neoliberal world order are thriving in Canada. Women who refuse to play them get demoted.
Judith Marshall has recently retired after two decades in the Global Affairs department of the United Steelworkers, which included member education on global issues and the organization of many international exchanges of workers, especially in the mining sector.
This article appeared in the Winter 2019 issue of Canadian Dimension (Injustice at Unist’ot’en).