SNC Lavalin in a Nutshell

Kirsten Ehlers - 1B Biomedical
Posted on: March 13, 2019

The biggest scandal in Ottawa right now is the SNC Lavalin controversy. In January, it was revealed that now-former Attorney General and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, was allegedly pressured by the Prime Minister’s Office to intercede on the prosecution of SNC Lavalin. SNC Lavalin is a Quebec-based engineering and construction firm with several allegations of corruption in multiple countries including Bangladesh, India, Canada, and Mexico. More significantly, SNC Lavalin is a huge employer in Canada, particularly Quebec. The Quebec provincial government voiced its support for the engineering firm. The economic effect of a large company leaving Canada due to any large charges could be disastrous. Pierre Fitzgibbon, Quebec’s Economy Ministers has previously stressed the government’s wish to protect strategic companies for the economy.

However, SNC Lavalin hasn’t exactly been the most ethical company in the nation either.

In 2011, SNC Lavalin’s top construction executive, who had been bribing the Libyan government to win contracts, had to relocate after dictator Mohammed Gadhafi was ousted. This later led to the arrest of several individuals in Mexico who were allegedly plotting to smuggle Gadhafi’s son into hiding. Stéphane Roy and Cyndy Vainier were SNC employees among the individuals that were detained and then released. Roy had not been convicted in Canada due to unreasonable delays by the prosecution.

A month after, there was an internal revolt at the company after allegations that executives were paying bribes and laundering money for the Gadhafi government using Swiss banks. The executive Riadh Ben Aïssa, was detained for 2 and a half years in Switzerland when he plead guilty to bribery and laundering money. He is the only SNC Lavalin executive to be convicted. The company has maintained that Ben Aïssa was acting rogue against the company.

In 2014,  Sami Bebawi, another construction executive was caught in a sting operation revealing that he was covering up Ben Aïssa’s involvement in Libya. He is still in court.

In 2015, SNC Lavalin was charged with corruption in Canada after SNC Lavalin allegedly bribed Libyan officials to win contracts, defrauding the Libyan government of 129.8 million Canadian dollars.

Later that year, Minster Wilson-Raybould inherited the case. Canadians praised Trudeau’s appointment of Willson-Raybould because she was a woman and Indigenous leader. In January, Trudeau reassigned Wilson-Raybould from Justice Department to Veterans Affairs. This new position, she quit.

Why? It has everything to do with SNC Lavalin.

Trudeau allegedly used threats and interference to pressure Wilson-Raybould into settling the SNC Lavalin case. The goal was to make a prosecution agreement and avoid a trial. In Wilson-Raybould’s testimony, she described meetings, conversations, and e-mails which she called inappropriate but not illegal. He desires to protect SNC Lavalin was based in the belief that the charges would result in job losses and SNC Lavalin leaving Montreal.

Raybould also cited her First Nations beliefs in her testimony. She concluded by saying: “I come from a long line of matriarchs and I am a truth teller in accordance with the laws and traditions of our Big House. This is who I am and this is who I will always be. Gila’kasla”. By saying this, she highlights her belief in truth-telling and integrity.

Wilson-Raybould testimony has recently inspired a strong code of ethics amongst young Indigenous women.

The fallout has been detrimental to the Trudeau government. He has jeopardized his relationship with First Nations communities. Wilson-Raybould made history being appointed as Justice Minister. It was thought for a long time that Trudeau had really proved that he valued First Nations communities by appointing such an important position of power to an Indigenous woman. However, progress was slow. There was no progress in changing the Indian Act and limited progress in bringing water to First Nations communities. That may have been fine, but the demotion of Wilson-Raybould may have been too far.

Also, Trudeau’s gender-equality values have been perceived as less and less valid as the days go by. Countless female politicians have been backing out of support for Trudeau’s governments. Jane Philpott, Treasury Board President, and star law-maker quit the Cabinet last Monday due to ethical concerns about the SNC Lavalin scandal and citing a loss in confidence in the current government. Additionally, Celina Caesar-Chavannes had announced that she would not run for re-election. The sudden resignation of several high-profile female legislators has severely damaged Trudeau’s equal representation cabinet that he was acclaimed for in 2015.

Now, with Trudeau’s own party losing confidence in him, it is curious to see that Canadians say that it will likely not affect their vote in the upcoming election. In the CTV commissioned Nanos poll, 17.4% of Canadians said that scandals such as the SNC Lavalin case would influence their vote the most. In contrast, 72.5% of respondents said that issues like the economy would influence their vote more.

So perhaps, not all is lost for the Trudeau government in the fall elections. However, the SNC Lavalin scandal definitely isn’t helping.

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