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.


Tragic Fire in Halifax


Pray for Syrian refugee family

Last Tuesday at roughly one in the morning, firefighters were called to the scene of one of the deadliest house fires Halifax has ever had.

The fire claimed the lives of seven children, who have been identified as: Abdullah, Rana, Hala, Ola, Mohamad, Rola, and Ahmed Barho. Their ages range from three months to 14 years.

The family had moved to the Spryfield area in October. Prior to that, the family had arrived in Canada as refugees only in September 2017.

The mother and father of the children survived the event, though not unscathed. Ebraheim and Kawthar were taken to the hospital during the night. Kawthar’s injuries are non-life-threatening, but Ebraheim, who went back into the blaze in an attempt to save his children, is in critical condition.

The investigation into the cause of the fire is ongoing. Damage to the home is extensive, but especially prominent in the back and upper floor. According to Spryfield area city councilor, Steve Adams, most of the homes in the area were built between two and five years ago.

With Ebraheim in the hospital, Kawthar is without any family to turn to. Among the many pressuring the federal government to bring Barho’s family members to Nova Scotia is Halifax MP Andy Fillmore.

On Wednesday, a vigil was held for the family in Halifax’s main square. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had a pre-planned party event which brought him to the Halifax area, and was able to stand among the hundreds who arrived to pay their respects. The prime minister did not speak at the vigil but stated that he was encouraged “to see so many people come out to share their love, to share their support for this family that most of them didn’t know and to say, ‘We’re there for you.’”

In an act of charity, a fundraiser was established for the Barho family through GoFundMe. The original goal of which was $300 000. It surpassed $398 000 within one day.

The Barho family had reportedly moved from Elmsdale to the Halifax suburb to take advantage of language training and immigration services in the area. A spokesperson from the Hants East Assisting Refugee Team Society, the group that sponsored the Barho family, said the family was planning to move back to Elmsdale next month.

Burials have not yet been planned for the children, as Kawthar and family friends await the release of bodies from the medical examiner.