SNC-Lavalin – What is to come?

There is going to be an ongoing battle over whether Ms. Wilson-Raybould returns before the Justice Committee. Mr. Scheer raised this point several times during Monday’s Question Period. In addition Pierre Poilievre has indicated that the Conservatives intend to bring House business to a standstill until the Liberal majority on the Committee agrees to her return. The Conservatives and the NDP have the ability to make the lives of Liberals miserable through concurrence motions and recorded votes on every measure.

Additionally, the opposition could seek emergency meetings in a number of committees to discuss issues related to SNC-Lavalin. For example, Finance Committee to study the impact of OECD anti-corruption initiatives on the Canadian economy. Global Affairs could be asked to study the impact of recent comments by the OECD on Canada’s international reputation and competitiveness. However, the most likely move is for the Opposition to move the matter to the House Ethics Committee to do the work that the Justice Committee has refused.

There is also the looming matter of the trial of VAdm Norman. It appears that the defence is raising the same sort of concerns about intervention from PMO and PCO that have been raised in the SNC-Lavalin matter. There is an ongoing struggle over production of documents with the government appearing to drag its feet on this. The suggestion has been made that the government is trying to delay the trial of this matter, presently scheduled for August. Even if they are successful on the main trial I do not believe that they will be successful in delaying the abuse of process motion past the election.

Then there is ongoing investigation of the Ethics Commissioner. The scope of that investigation is very limited dealing with conflict of the private interest of a public office holder. However, last week there was a story in the Globe and Mail (paywall) that outside legal counsel has been retained for the Prime Minster and that a separate law firm has been retained for staff in PMO.

It is not clear to me how one firm could represent all staff in PMO as there appears to be a very likely conflict of interest between staff members if this investigation goes deeper. Those with lesser or innocent involvement would have an interest in full cooperation while those immersed more deeply will want to restrict cooperation. Further, as the heat gets turned up there it is likely that someone will have an interest in pointing the finger at another staff member.

There are two other interesting aspects to the hiring of legal counsel by the PM and his staff. The first is that it is being paid for by the government of Canada (and by extension the Canadian taxpayer). I cannot help but contrast this with the treatment afforded to VAdm Norman who was denied the same coverage. The second is that this appears to be the first time (I cannot find any other) that the government has paid for legal counsel in an Ethics Commissioner investigation. Given the fact that the maximum penalty for violation of the Conflict of Interest Act is $500 (s.52) there appears to be a fair bit of overkill here. It is possible that there are greater concerns in PMO regarding the criminal implications of conduct in this matter.

Then there is this examination of structural questions regarding the federal government, Minister of Justice and Attorney General that is being examined by Anne McLellan. That report is due by June 30, 2019. There are more questions than answers around this:

  • Will there be a review of the SNC-Lavalin matter?
  • How can this issue be considered without such a review?
  • Will any documents or work in this matter be shared with the Ethics Commissioner?
  • Will the information be made available to Canadians?

Time is also running on the Appeal of the Federal Court decision dismissing SNC-Lavalin’s application to compel the DPP to enter into remediation agreement negotiations. The decision was very strongly written and I do not see many prospects for a successful appeal.

However, the next step in the criminal proceeding could be an application by SNC to dismiss the charges because of the time that has passed and citing the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in Jordan. The events that support the charges occurred between 2001 and 2011. The investigation began in 2012. Charges were laid in February 2015 and the preliminary inquiry began in October of 2018 with trial scheduled for late this year or in 2020. An SNC executive has already had charges stayed because it took to long to bring the charges to trial.

Suffice it to say that last week I thought the government was trying to send this matter into a deep-freeze. This week I think there are going to be a number of further chapters.

Author: Tom Jarmyn