PM Trudeau sought to influence Wilson-Raybould in ‘many ways’: Ethics czar

OTTAWA—Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion has found Prime Minister Justin Trudeau broke the federal Conflict of Interest Act in relation to the SNC-Lavalin scandal, by seeking to influence Jody Wilson-Raybould in “many ways.”

Dion has found that after taking months to review “troubling” evidence relevant legal and constitutional principles, Trudeau contravened section nine of the Act, which states that public office holders are prohibited from using their position to seek to influence a decision that furthers the interest of a private third party.

“The evidence showed there were many ways in which Mr. Trudeau, either directly or through the actions of those under his direction, sought to influence the Attorney General,” Dion writes in the report, adding that his attempts to influence her decision were both direct and indirect.

The commissioner has found that Trudeau acted improperly when using his position of authority over then-justice minister and attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould in relation to the Quebec construction giant’s criminal prosecution.

“The Prime Minister, directly and through his senior officials, used various means to exert influence over Ms. Wilson Raybould. The authority of the Prime Minister and his office was used to circumvent, undermine and ultimately attempt to discredit the decision of the Director of Public Prosecutions as well as the authority of Ms. Wilson Raybould as the Crown’s chief law officer,” said Dion.

It is expected that Trudeau, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh will react to this major development this afternoon. As the scandal unfolded, Trudeau continued to assert he nor his staff acted improperly, amid calls from the opposition for his resignation and a public inquiry.

Asked for comment, Wilson-Raybould said she is refraining until having “read the report in its entirety.”

Over the two months that it dominated headlines, the SNC-Lavalin scandal and the allegations of political interference at the centre of led to blockbuster testimony, political bombshells, high-profile resignations, and new developments almost daily. The affair centred on allegations from Jody Wilson-Raybould that she faced high-level “veiled threats” and political interference in the criminal prosecution of the Quebec construction giant. Wilson-Raybould said that she was pressured to have federal prosecutors pursue a remediation agreement, otherwise known as a deferred prosecution agreement, rather than criminal prosecution in the case, but she was unwilling.

“Commissioner Dion determined that, as Prime Minister, Mr. Trudeau was the only public office holder able to exert influence over the Attorney General in her decision whether to intervene in a matter relating to a criminal prosecution.”

In his report Dion noted Trudeau’s position that he was concerned about potential job losses should SNC-Lavalin be found guilty and therefore potentially not eligible for Canadian government contracts for a decade. Though, the commissioner found that the construction firm would “undoubtedly have been furthered had Mr. Trudeau successfully influenced the Attorney General in her decision to overturn the Director of Public Prosecutions’ decision.”

Dion is also of the view that partisan considerations were indeed “improperly” put to the attorney general at the time, contravening the long-held principle of prosecutorial independence.

Dion also found that other senior officials within the Prime Minister’s Office “were directed, by the Prime Minister, to find a solution in a desire to use the newly adopted remediation agreement tool.”

“There is no requirement that the alleged influence must lead to the desired result for a breach of section 9 to occur,” the report states, appearing to reference the fact that SNC-Lavalin has not been given the deferred prosecution agreement it was seeking.

The investigation was launched in February and Dion’s office said that the Privy Council Office denied him access to “a full range of cabinet confidences,” which meant that nine witnesses were “constrained” in providing their full evidence. This appears in contrast with the solicitor-client privilege waiver that Trudeau issued to allow Wilson-Raybould and “any person who directly participated in discussions with her,” to speak about the case to the ethics czar.

On Tuesday, Trudeau said that the findings of a separate examination into whether the roles of justice minister and attorney general should be divided, wouldn’t be made public until the federal ethics commissioner issues his report. In March, Trudeau appointed former Liberal minister Anne McLellan to examine some of the machinery of government issues that were brought into the spotlight during the scandal.

This is the second time the ethics commissioner’s office has found the prime minister has broken federal ethics laws.

Trudeau was also found to have broken the federal ethics act when he vacationed at the Aga Khan’s private island. In 2017 Dion’s predecessor Mary Dawson found that when Trudeau took a Christmas 2016 trip with family and friends to the island in the Bahamas, he contravened the act in four ways related to accepting accommodations from someone registered to lobby his office.

More details to come…