SNC-Lavalin Controversy


Trudeau’s fatal flaw?

Over the past few weeks, a significant scandal has emerged in Canadian politics. That scandal is the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin and the possible interference in it by the office of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Before approaching the scandal, a brief overview of SNC-Lavalin’s history is necessary.

Based in Montreal, SNC-Lavalin is a large construction and engineering firm which operates in many regions of the world. Within Canada, SNC-Lavalin employs roughly 9 000 people, globally that figure is closer to 50 000. The company has been and continues to be involved in major infrastructure projects in Canada.

Despite this, SNC-Lavalin’s reputation is not untarnished. Both within and outside of Canada, the company has been linked with many allegations of corruption in the past.

What brings SNC-Lavalin into the crosshairs of Canadian media as of late, is the company’s prosecution by Canada’s former Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Jody Wilson-Raybould.

The issue first came into the public sphere in early February, when the Globe and Mail reported that aides close to the Prime Minister tried to stop Wilson-Raybould’s prosecution and requested the company be given a “deferred prosecution agreement” instead. This is a relatively new avenue for dealing with corporate fraud, that was written into law in 2018 and it would allow SNC-Lavalin in this case to face fines rather than a trial. This would be preferable for the firm, as a conviction could result in a 10-year ban from bidding on government contracts.

Back in 2018, SNC-Lavalin was among the companies who lobbied for the deferred prosecution agreement to become law.

On Friday, the Federal Court rejected a bid by SNC-Lavalin that challenged prosecutors who insisted the company face trial over corruption charges which accuse the company of bribing Libyan officials between 2001 and 2011 in order to get contracts. The only hope for SNC-Lavalin to avoid trial now is to get the deferred prosecution agreement granted by the new Attorney General,    David Lametti, who replaced Wilson-Raybould following her demotion by Trudeau in January.

The true crux of the matter is the implication of Prime  Minister Trudeau and other top officials, which exploded onto the front pages of newspapers when Wilson-Raybould gave her testimony to the House of Commons Justice Committee on February 27, 2019.

In Wilson-Raybould’s testimony, she gave a detailed account of the many attempts by Trudeau and his top aides to dissuade her from pursuing prosecution against SNC-Lavalin. She has stated that she does not believe the actions of Trudeau or his aides to be illegal, but inappropriate.

Photo: Toronto Star

Photo: Toronto Star

Regardless of legality, the reputation of the Trudeau government has taken a significant hit. Political opponents are highlighting the stark contrast between Trudeau’s campaign speeches and his recent actions, with many calling into question his promise of a transparent government. Some have even questioned his claimed support of feminism following the testimony and resignation of Wilson-Raybould, and the resignation of Treasury Board President Jane Philpott.

The most outspoken critic has been Conservative leader, Andrew Scheer, who called for the Prime Minister to step down. The Guardian quotes Scheer, “He (Trudeau) can no longer, with a clear conscience, continue to lead this nation.”

SNC-Lavalin is viewed by many as the feather in the cap of Quebec. Of the company’s     9,000 Canadian employees, 3,400 are in Québec alone. This is important – the Liberals are leading in the polls in Québec – but they will require more seats in order to win the upcoming October election. If SNC-Lavalin is convicted and cuts jobs in Québec, it is possible that voters will hold Trudeau and the Liberals accountable.

Prime Minister Trudeau reflects his awareness of this crucial point by emphasizing that his pressures on Wilson-Raybould were based in his concern for Canadian jobs. His stance being that “our government will always focus on jobs and our economy,”  as reported in Chicago Tribune.

On March 7, Prime Minister Trudeau called a news conference in which he offered no apology but said that, “we considered she was still open to hearing different arguments, different approaches on what her decision could be. As we now learn ... that was not the case,” according to Reuters.Scheer called the speech “a completely phony act of fake sincerity” in the same article.

In addition to the resignations of two prominent female cabinet members, Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott, Trudeau’s closest political aide, Gerald Butts has also resigned.

With the federal election on the not-so-distant horizon, the SNC-Lavalin scandal may prove to be the fatal flaw in Trudeau’s governance.


Discrimination at Parliament


Private apology from Justin Trudeau to a group of African Nova Scotians

During a recent trip to the Black Cultural Centre in Cherrybrook, Nova Scotia, a group of African Nova Scotians have received a private apology from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about being racially profiled earlier in February at Parliament Hill.

Approximately 150 people attended the Black Voices on the Hill, a coalition of black, youth, human rights, and labour groups meant to raise awareness of black Canadians among politicians, where they were to meet with a number of cabinet ministers.

Before meeting with cabinet ministers, a group of the visitors waited in the cafeteria. While there, an employee reportedly took pictures of the group and complained to Parliamentary Protective Services (PPS) about “dark-skinned” people. PPS then asked the group, waiting to meet with cabinet members, to leave despite having valid parliamentary passes.

The reaction to the incident has been swift, however. The chief of the PPS has launched an internal investigation, telling the CBC that there is “zero tolerance for any type of discrimination,” and offering an apology to the group visiting parliament to visit with cabinet members.

One among the group, Trayvone Clayton, a 20-year old criminology student at St. Mary’s University, told CBC that he received a phone call from Halifax MP, Andy Fillmore, about meeting the Prime Minister to receive an apology before the official apology.

Clayton reported that while the group was waiting in the cafeteria, there were complaints allegedly about noise the group was making. Clayton, however, responded that the group he was with was not making unreasonable amounts of noise, and that regardless,  “you’re obviously going to hear talking in the cafeteria anywhere you go.”

While Fillmore said the discrimination was “deeply troubling,” other members of the group have called the experience, “not isolated… but part of a broader systemic problem. It shows how at the highest levels of Canada’s public institutions, anti-black racism can flourish embedded within public institutions, how law enforcement can disproportionately criminalize black youth, and how there is an urgent need for more robust measures to eliminate all forms of discrimination from society.”

Trudeau, who was in Cherrybrook on February 21, took the time to apologize privately to the African Nova Scotians who were discriminated against at Parliament Hill, and to speak publicly about the shameful event in Ottawa. Trudeau was given a tour of the cultural centre, and remarked about the changes and progress that has yet to be made and progress that is ongoing in Canada regarding racism, prejudice, and discrimination.

The discrimination takes on special significance due to the fact that it takes place during Black History Month, and the fact that those who were visiting were there specifically to raise issues about black Canadians and the issues that they face. 

The disturbing irony of their purpose for being on Parliament Hill and their experience is hopefully not lost on members of parliament, senators and other Canadians. Trudeau acknowledged that Parliament Hill is meant to be accessible for all Canadians and they must work hard to prevent this incident from happening again, not just in Ottawa, but all of Canada.

It must be equally disheartening for the coalition attending Black Voices on the Hill as it was only two months previously that a black Nova Scotian and president of the Black Loyalist Heritage Society, Elizabeth Cromwell, was awarded the Order of Canada for her tireless work in preserving the history of black Nova Scotians.

Cromwell co-founded the Black Loyalists Heritage Society in Birchtown, Nova Scotia in the 1980s, which has documented the history of black Nova Scotians as far back as the 1780s. The Society rebuilt their museum after a  devastating 2006 arson attack, finishing construction and opening on June 6, 2015.


Canadian Man Sentenced to Death in China


Feud sparked by Huawei CFO’s arrest in Canada continues to rage on

Tensions between Beijing and Ottawa continue to escalate, as a Canadian man was sentenced to death on Monday in China’s northeast province of Liaoning. In November, The Dalian Intermediate People’s Court sentenced Robert Lloyd Schellenberg to 15 years in prison on charges of mass drug smuggling. Earlier this month, prosecutors appealed the decision, stating that the sentence was too lenient due to evidence of Schellenberg’s involvement in international organized drug crime. Within 20 minutes of Schellenberg’s second appearance, the court decided to send the case to a retrial. 

In a blog post, George Washington University’s Chinese law expert Donald Clarke stated that the speed at which the court decided to retry the case was highly suspicious, and indicated that the decision had been made prior to Schellenberg’s court appearance. He also stated that the extraordinary speed with which the retrial was scheduled is indicative of the case being used as diplomatic retaliation. 

“Schellenberg’s retrial has been scheduled for January 14, a mere 16 days after the appeal decision. This is barely time for the minimum 10 days’ notice of trial required by China’s Criminal Procedure Law (Art. 187), and it is not clear that notice was in fact provided on or before January 4 as required. Given that the prosecution apparently plans to make new allegations that would justify the imposition of a death sentence, such a brief time is utterly inadequate for the preparation of a meaningful defence.”

All of this comes only a month after the Canadian arrest of Meng Wanzhou, the Chief Financial Officer of Chinese telecom company Huawei Technologies Co. After the arrest, the Chinese Embassy in Canada issued the following statement, “At the request of the U.S. side, the Canadian side arrested a Chinese citizen not violating any American or Canadian law. The Chinese side firmly opposes and strongly protests over such kind of actions which seriously harmed the human rights of the victim. 

The Chinese side has lodged stern representations with the U.S. and Canadian side, and urged them to immediately correct the wrongdoing and restore the personal freedom of Wanzhou. We will closely follow the development of the issue and take all measures to resolutely protect the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese citizens.

The request from the U.S. to extradite Wanzhou came after the U.S. uncovered evidence that she purposefully buried Huawei’s connections to a firm that attempted to sell equipment to Iran, despite international sanctions. 

The original warrant was issued by the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York; after the arrest, Canadian officials  confirmed Wanzhou was charged with “conspiracy to defraud multiple international institutions.” The charges of fraud include using a shell company over five years to avoid international American sanctions. Skycom, the company in question, was used to provide telecommunication services to Iran. While Wanzhou asserts that Skycom and Huawei are separate entities, U.S. officials disagree. In addition to the fraud charges, U.S. attorneys state that Wanzhou was actively attempting to avoid prosecution by the U.S., as she was found in possession of “no fewer than seven passports from both China and Hong Kong.” 

When questioned by reporters, Trudeau felt that the arrest would have little impact on diplomatic relations with Beijing, stating that the two countries had a very good relationship. The following day, the Chinese government issued a warning to Canadian ambassador John McCallum, stating that the arrest “severely violated the Chinese citizen’s legal and legitimate rights and interests, it is lawless, reasonless and ruthless, and it is extremely vicious.” The government also warned of “serious consequences” if the actions by North American officials were not remedied.  Shortly after the warning was issued, former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig was detained in Beijing, for “endangered Chinese security.” The unspecific allegations were not followed with charges laid by the Chinese government, and Prime Minister Trudeau has referred to the detention as arbitrary and unacceptable. 

A second Canadian has also gone missing in China. Michael Spavor, a Canadian business consultant with ties to North Korea, shared his itinerary on December 10 over Facebook for a lecture series in Seoul. Spavor’s plane was set to depart from China that day; however, he never arrived in South Korea. 

In a statement referring to both Spavor and Kovrig, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Lu Kang again accused the pair of being “suspected of engaging in activities endangering national security,” without specific charges being laid. Clarke also referred to the pair in his blog post regarding Schellenberg’s death sentence. 

“The case appears to reinforce the message, previously suggested by the detentions of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, that China views the holding of human hostages as an acceptable way to conduct diplomacy.” 

The diplomatic tensions between Canada and China show no signs of easing during the coming weeks, and several former foreign officials have predicted that it will take approximately a year to resolve. President Trump and Prime Minister Trudeau have both appealed to the government of China to refrain from utilizing their judicial powers as weapons in the diplomatic spat, though their pleas remain unanswered. Meanwhile, Schellenberg has 10 days to appeal the court decision, although due process has notably been missing from many of the aforementioned court proceedings.