Trudeau broke ethics law, watchdog rules

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. (File photo by Maureen Revait,

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau broke federal ethics laws by trying to influence former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to intervene in SNC-Lavalin’s criminal prosecution.

That is one of many conclusions drawn by Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion, who released his 63-page report into the SNC Lavalin scandal on Wednesday. The report could be particularly damaging for Trudeau heading into this fall’s federal election.

Following months of review, Dion concluded Trudeau violated Section 9 of the Conflict of Interest Act. That section of the act prohibits public office holders from using their position to seek to influence a decision of another person to further their own private interests, those of relatives or friends, or a third party.

“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,” Dion said in a statement.

Attempts by Trudeau to influence Wilson-Raybould outlined in the report include trying to have her expedite the Quebec-based engineering firm’s hearing, “improperly” continuing discussions with SNC-Lavalin’s legal counsel without the attorney general’s knowledge, and putting forward partisan political considerations to the attorney general in relation to a criminal prosecution.

“I find all of these tactics troubling,” Dion stated in the report.

In a written submission to Dion during the investigation, Trudeau denied using his position to influence Wilson-Raybould’s decision about the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin. He stated that he was “concerned” that the former attorney general seemed to have ruled out directing the Director of Public Prosecutions to enter into negotiations for a remediation agreement with the company – “something he regarded as potentially appropriate and in the public interest.”

A second submission from Trudeau’s legal counsel, went on to explain that the prime minister’s relationship with Wilson-Raybould had become “challenging and tense” prior to the SNC-Lavalin case becoming public. He had concerns with the “significant friction” between Wilson-Raybould and her Cabinet colleagues.

Trudeau’s legal team also alleged Wilson-Raybould’s anger at being moved from her post as Minister of Justice and Attorney General to Veterans Affairs “coloured her perception of prior events.”

“Mr. Trudeau’s legal counsel further submitted that Ms. Wilson-Raybould failed in her duty, as Attorney General, to acquaint herself with all the relevant facts. Rather than making a meaningful independent decision of her own, Ms. Wilson-Raybould reflexively deferred to the Director of Public Prosecutions’ decision,” Dion said in the report.

Wilson-Raybould has maintained that she faced “veiled threats” and political interference from the Prime Minister’s Office to interfere in SNC Lavalin’s criminal prosecution during her time as attorney general.

Dion found that between November 22, 2018 and December 18, 2018 there were at least three attempts by senior staff in the Prime Minister’s Office to persuade Wilson-Raybould to re-examine the idea of seeing external advice on the SNC-Lavalin affair.

Dion stated the “most flagrant” attempt to influence the former attorney general came in a phone call, secretly recorded by Wilson-Raybould, from former Clerk of the Privy Council Michael Wernick.

“It is evident from the audio recording that Mr. Wernick was making an appeal, on behalf of Mr. Trudeau, to have the Attorney General reconsider her decision to not intervene in the criminal prosecution. Although the messenger had changed, the message remained the same: a solution was needed to prevent the economic consequences of SNC-Lavalin not entering into negotiations for a remediation agreement,” said Dion.

He concluded his report by stating that Trudeau used his position of authority over Wilson-Raybould to influence her decision on the SNC Lavalin criminal prosecution.

“Because SNC-Lavalin overwhelmingly stood to benefit from Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s intervention, I have no doubt that the result of Mr. Trudeau’s influence would have furthered SNC-Lavalin’s interests. The actions that sought to further these interests were improper since the actions were contrary to the constitutional principles of prosecutorial independence and the rule of law,” stated Dion.

Wilson-Raybould and her Liberal caucus ally, former Treasury Board president Jane Philpott resigned from cabinet in the wake of the SNC-Lavalin affair. Both were later booted from the caucus altogether and currently sit as Independents. The incident also led to the resignation of Trudeau’s principal secretary Gerry Butts.

Dion’s full report can be read by clicking here.