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‘A little baloney’ in PM’s claim about solicitor-client privilege on SNC-Lavalin

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OTTAWA — “In the matter of solicitor-client privilege, the member opposite must know that there are real dangers of unintended consequences, particularly on the two court cases currently wending their way through the courts.”

– Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Feb. 19, 2019

Federal opposition parties resumed their demands this week that Trudeau let former cabinet minister Jody Wilson-Raybould speak to allegations that she felt pressured to avert a criminal trial for Quebec engineering giant SNC-Lavalin.

Wilson-Raybould, who resigned from cabinet last week, has said she cannot comment because she is bound by solicitor-client privilege, which still applies even though she’s no longer the justice minister and attorney general.

The Conservatives and NDP want Trudeau to waive that privilege so Wilson-Raybould can offer her side of the story.

But in response to such a demand from Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer during question period on Tuesday, the prime minister said doing so could harm two court proceedings involving SNC-Lavalin.

Those involve the fraud and bribery case against SNC-Lavalin in connection with its work in Libya nearly a decade ago, and the company’s appeal of the decision by federal prosecutors not to negotiate an agreement that would let it avoid a criminal trial in that case.

So is it true that revealing the discussions between Wilson-Raybould and the prime minister or members of his staff and cabinet have “unintended consequences” on the two cases?

Spoiler alert: The Canadian Press Baloney Meter is a dispassionate examination of political statements culminating in a ranking of accuracy on a scale of “no baloney” to “full of baloney” (complete methodology below).

Trudeau’s remark earns a rating of “a little baloney.”

THE FACTS

SNC-Lavalin is facing fraud and bribery charges in relation to business ties between it and Moammar Gadhafi’s regime in Libya and could be excluded from future government contracts here and elsewhere if convicted.

The federal justice minister is unique in that whoever holds the position is also the attorney general, the government’s top lawyer. In that vein, the government can consult the attorney general for legal advice and those discussions can be protected from disclosure.

But the Globe and Mail first reported this month, citing unnamed sources, that Wilson-Raybould felt pressured last fall to intervene and get federal prosecutors to offer the company a deal that would see it pay a fine rather than face a criminal trial. She refused.

Federal prosecutors in October rejected SNC-Lavalin’s request to negotiate a deferred prosecution agreement and pay for the criminal case to be dropped. The company has since appealed that decision and is waiting to find out whether a court will hear its request for a review.

These are the two cases Trudeau mentioned in response to Scheer.

The Liberals have admitted to numerous private discussions about SNC-Lavalin, including a meeting that Wilson-Raybould had with Trudeau in September and another between her and Gerald Butts, Trudeau’s former principal secretary, in December.

Trudeau and Butts have denied directing or otherwise pressuring Wilson-Raybould, who was shuffled out as justice minister and attorney general to veterans affairs last month in a move widely seen as a demotion. She resigned from cabinet Feb. 12.

While Wilson-Raybould has refused to talk about those discussions publicly, citing solicitor-client privilege, she says she has hired former Supreme Court judge Thomas Cromwell to advise her on what she can say.

Trudeau has similarly said that he is consulting Wilson-Raybould’s replacement, Justice Minister David Lametti, on what parts of their conversation can be safely revealed.

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY

Whether solicitor-client privilege applies to interactions between the attorney general and other officials depends on the circumstances — and when it is invoked, the circumstances that give rise to the claim of privilege should be spelled out, says Toronto lawyer Lee Akazaki of Gilbertson Davis LLP.

That hasn’t happened in this case, aside from Trudeau saying that he told Wilson-Raybould that the decision whether to stop SNC-Lavalin’s prosecution was up to her and that the potential economic ramifications of a guilty verdict for a major company were raised.

That makes it hard to asses the degree to which waiving solicitor-client privilege could affect the criminal case and judicial review.

Assuming the attorney general was asked for advice about the ongoing prosecution, Akazaki says that advice “should be kept confidential in order to prevent any appearance of interference by the executive branch of government in an ongoing judicial proceeding.”

That is particularly relevant in a criminal case or judicial review such as those facing SNC-Lavalin, said Andrew Martin, an expert on legal ethics at the University of British Columbia, who added that once privilege has been waived it can’t be restored.

“I imagine it would inform SNC-Lavalin’s arguments on the judicial review, depending on what was said,” Martin said, “and they could probably use what was said as part of their application for judicial review.”

University of Ottawa law expert Elizabeth Sanderson, who previously served for many years as a federal-government lawyer, echoed the view that SNC-Lavalin’s lawyers could turn around and use any disclosed conversations between Wilson-Raybould and others in their defence.

All of which assumes, she said, that the discussions did touch on the details of the case and were not simply an attempt by Trudeau or his staff to get the former attorney-general to use her powers to intervene.

“There’s a real distinction between talking about the evidence or the legal opinion they developed to say why they think they have to pursue this case, which may reveal some of their strategy in litigation, versus a flat-out: ‘Don’t pursue this case.’ Which has nothing to do with the case.”

THE VERDICT

Any analysis of the prime minister’s assertion about the impact of waiving solicitor-client privilege is muddied by the fact neither Wilson-Raybould nor Trudeau have elaborated on the nature and context of the discussions that took place around the SNC-Lavalin case.

Still, the fact the case was discussed at the highest levels of government does raise the very real prospect that the contents of those discussions could have an impact on the proceedings and thus any waiver should be carefully considered.

“I think what he said is quite fair,” said Martin. “Don’t get me wrong, it’s politically convenient. I don’t know that he’s unhappy with this answer. But it is the correct answer.”

Akazaki said it is imperative the government provide more information about the nature of the discussions between Trudeau and Wilson-Raybould, but that when it comes to the prime minister’s comment: “Based on what we know at the present time, it is accurate.”

The statement is correct based on what the prime minister has said, but he’s keeping crucial details to himself. For that reason, Trudeau’s comment ranks as “a little baloney.”

METHODOLOGY

The Baloney Meter is a project of The Canadian Press that examines the level of accuracy in statements made by politicians. Each claim is researched and assigned a rating based on the following scale:

No baloney — the statement is completely accurate

A little baloney — the statement is mostly accurate but more information is required

Some baloney — the statement is partly accurate but important details are missing

A lot of baloney — the statement is mostly inaccurate but contains elements of truth

Full of baloney — the statement is completely inaccurate

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

Ag Business

What the USMCA Might Mean for Agriculture and Biotechnology?

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Canada, USA, Mexico flags

We welcome guest writers to all of our Todayville platforms. Here’s a submission from Emily Folk.  Emily is passionate about agricultural sustainability and more of her work can be found on her site, Conservation Folks. In this story, Emily Folk explains the USMCA Impact on Agriculture. 

What Could USMCA Mean for Agriculture and Biotechnology?

The United States Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA) has been in the news a lot lately. The leaders of the respective nations signed the trade agreement on November 30, 2019, and ratification is pending. You can think of the USMCA as an updated version of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

U.S. President Donald Trump vowed to renegotiate NAFTA after publicly speaking unfavourably about it. The USMCA is the result of that vow. The agreement spans several areas, such as the origin of automobile parts and new labor laws in Mexico that make it easier for workers to unionize. The USMCA also has a “sunset clause” that makes its terms expire after 16 years. Plus, every six years, the leaders of the countries involved must agree on whether to extend the deal.

Some agriculture-specific stipulations also exist within the USMCA. Additionally, the agreement notably mentions biotechnology. Here’s a closer look at how the USMCA might change these two industries.

More Exporting Opportunities for Farmers

One of the key points often mentioned about the USMCA is that parties expect the agreement to cause a $2 billion increase in U.S. agriculture exports, triggering a $65 billion rise in U.S. gross domestic product (GDP). Canada and Mexico are currently the top two exporting markets for American farmers, supporting more than 325,000 American jobs. In 2018, the food and agricultural exports destined for Canada and Mexico totaled more than $39.7 billion.

The USMCA also opens exporting opportunities that did not exist before. Now, U.S. dairy farmers will have expanded access to send products such as fluid and powdered milk, cheese and cream to Canadian parties. There will also no longer be U.S. tariffs on whey and margarine. This change is notable, considering the Canadian dairy market produced roughly 17% of the United States’ annual output over the past three years.

In exchange, Canada will give the United States new access to chicken and eggs, plus increased access to turkey. Plus, all other agriculture products traded between the U.S. and Mexico will be under a zero-tariff model.

Moving Forward With Agricultural Biotechnology

Another improvement associated with the USMCA is that it looks at agricultural technology more broadly than other trade agreements have.

For example, the Trans-Pacific Partnership — a proposed trade agreement between 12 nations — only addressed biotechnology regarding recombinant DNA (rDNA). That process involves joining the molecules from two different species, then inserting the product into a host to create new genetic combinations. Instead, the USMCA opens possibilities for all kinds of agricultural technology, including gene editing. Moving ahead with biotechnology could be crucial for addressing pressing matters that affect agriculture, such as water scarcity.

Approximately 700 million people suffer from water scarcity, and that number could double by 2025. Also, the agriculture industry is the greatest user of water. Things must change — both to address the growing water scarcity problem and to give farmers more options for growing things without using so much water.

Biotechnology has already helped, and it seems highly likely to continue spurring progress. In one example, scientists altered the expression of one gene common to all plants. This change led to a 25% increase in the plants’ water-use efficiency without adversely impacting yield or photosynthesis.

As part of the USMCA, Mexico, Canada and the United States agreed to improve information sharing and cooperation about biotechnology matters related to trade. That change could speed new developments, resulting in positive outcomes for all involved groups and the world at large.

Fairer Agricultural Grading Standards

A grading system for agricultural products defines trading procedures. For example, commercial buyers of a product grown in another country refer to the grading standards to set expectations about a product’s quality. The USMCA specifies that Canada will evaluate U.S. imported wheat and assign it a grade no less favourable than it would give Canadian-grown wheat.

Canada will also no longer require country of origin statements associated with inspection certificates or quality grades. The United States and Canada will discuss issues related to seed regulations under the USMCA, too.

Concerning Mexico and the United States, the two countries agreed to non-discriminatory grading standards and services. Moreover, a dialogue will begin between the two countries to flesh out the details for quality standards and grading regarding trade.

A Promising Future

It’s too early to say what the real-life effects will be of the changes outlined here. But, the commitments laid out within the USMCA seem like they’ll represent clear improvements for agriculture professionals, as well as everyone who benefits from their goods.

 

I’m Emily Folk, and I grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania. Growing up I had a love of animals, and after countless marathons of watching Animal Planet documentaries, I developed a passion for ecology and conservation.  You can read more of my work by clicking this link:   Conservation Folks.

 

 

 

Extreme Weather Patterns Causing State of Agricultural Emergency in Canada

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Agriculture

151st Cowichan Exhibition includes new category: best home-grown pot

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VICTORIA — One of Canada’s oldest fall fairs is putting a new twist on its annual showcase of local livestock, produce and fruit by adding a new category for best home-grown marijuana.

The Cowichan Exhibition in Duncan, B.C., which dates back to 1868, has created a best cannabis category to embrace legalization and celebrate local pot growers, said exhibition vice-president Bud James.

The fair starts Friday and the cannabis entries will be on display in the main hall at the Cowichan Exhibition Grounds along with the region’s top vegetables, fruits and baked goods. First prize is $5, second is $3 and third place gets a ribbon.

“We just decided this year, because it’s an agricultural product, and it’s been grown in the valley for years, and now that it’s finally legally grown, we would allow people to win a ribbon for the best,” said James.

He said fair officials believe the Cowichan cannabis category is the first of its kind in Canada.

An official at the Canadian Association of Fairs and Exhibitions, a non-profit organization representing rural and urban fairs, said she had not heard of any other cannabis judging contests prior to the Cowichan Exhibition, but couldn’t confirm it was the first.

A fall fair in Grand Forks, B.C., is also judging local cannabis, but the event starts Saturday, one day after Cowichan’s fair. Those who enter the competition in Grand Forks can compete for best indoor- and outdoor-grown cannabis.

James said fair organizers contacted the local council and RCMP prior to adding the cannabis category. The mayor and council did not oppose the contest and the RCMP referred organizers to B.C.’s Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch, the agency monitoring retail sales of non-medical cannabis, he said.

Organizers decided to go ahead with the event after its plans were not rejected, James said.

“Our interpretation of the rules are you can’t make it attractive to people under 19 years and we are not making it attractive,” he said.

James said the cannabis entries will be placed in a glass display case and the individual entries will be sealed in clear zip lock plastic bags.

“It’s being judged to the same standard of judging garden and field produce,” he said. “It’s done by uniformity. You want all three buds to be the same size, same shape, same colour. It’s also the dryness, texture and smell. It’s exactly the same way you would judge apples or carrots or hay bales. It’s all done the same way.”

James said the contest doesn’t involve sampling the product.

Bree Tweet, the manager of a medical cannabis dispensary in nearby Ladysmith, will judge the marijuana entries, said James.

The exhibition received 18 cannabis entries and James said the contest created a buzz at the fair.

“The enthusiasm of the entrants, the people bringing their entry forms, they are so enthusiastic it’s unbelievable,” he said. “They are so thrilled that it’s happening, that we’re doing it because they’ve been waiting for years for legalization and now, they finally got it and now they have a chance to show what they can do.”

James, who has entered his prized Dahlia flowers at past fairs, said the addition of the cannabis category has exceeded expectations with the 18 entries.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press

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