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Criminal law in SNC-Lavalin case rarely makes it to Canadian courtrooms

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  • OTTAWA — The criminal law at the heart of the SNC-Lavalin saga dogging the federal Liberals has led to charges in just seven cases in 20 years, leading some to call for a review of the legislation and additional resources for investigators.

    The Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act made it illegal for Canadian companies and individuals to bribe foreign public officials in business transactions. The most recent report to Parliament on the law, from September 2018, showed that since the law was passed in 1999, charges had been laid against four companies and 15 individuals, stemming from seven investigations.

    Of those, three companies pleaded guilty and three people were convicted, while 11 people were either acquitted or had their charges stayed. One person accused in a bribery scheme in India faces a trial later this year. The case against SNC-Lavalin is the one outstanding charge against a company, and if SNC-Lavalin goes to trial it will be the first company to do so.

    That places Canada at the lower end of enforcement among the 44 signatories of the 1999 Anti-Bribery Convention of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. Canada passed the domestic law after it signed the convention, which is aimed at recruiting richer countries to combat corruption their own citizens and businesses perpetrate in poorer ones.

    The OECD raised concerns about lax enforcement efforts in Canada eight years ago and Canada responded with some amendments to the law, but the number of charges and convictions since is small.

    Patrick Moulette, the head of the anti-corruption division of the OECD, told The Canadian Press in an interview that the OECD will do another review of Canada’s enforcement of the bribery convention in 2021 so he can’t immediately say if there has been any improvement since the last review in 2011.

    Canada reported to the OECD it had 35 ongoing investigations of foreign bribery in 2013. In the six years since then, charges have been laid in connection to four investigations.

    Transparency International, which works to fight global corruption, lowered Canada’s ranking from “moderate enforcement” to “limited enforcement” last year because only one new charge had been laid since 2016. In that case, related to the purchase of an airplane from Thailand, the charge was stayed less than a year later.

    Joanna Harrington, a University of Alberta law professor, said the number of charges is not the only indication of how well a law is working, because Canada is assisting other countries to gather evidence and the law is also used to educate and deter the crimes from happening. But nevertheless, she said, it is time to give the whole thing a closer look.

    “We’ve had 20 years of it, now’s the time to review it,” she said, noting the original law was passed with just two days of debate.

    Investigations under the law are handled by the RCMP, which set up a special division with units in Calgary and Ottawa in 2008. Prosecutions are handled by the Public Prosecution Service of Canada.

    David Taylor, director of communications for Justice Minister David Lametti, said the government has “full confidence” in both to investigate and prosecute cases under the law.

    “Canada is committed to fighting corruption and has taken significant steps to deter Canadian companies and persons from paying bribes to foreign public officials in the course of business,” he said.

    Harrington, however, said a review of the law is needed given the confusion around the use of the law and the addition of remediation agreements to that law last year. They’re a means of heading off a prosecution if a company facing charges owns up to misdeeds, makes reparations, and institutes consequential internal reforms. If it stays clean for a period of time, the charges are dropped.

    “The problem we have, as we’re seeing with the SNC-Lavalin case, is we have this 20-year old piece of legislation and last year the government bolted on the remediation agreements, and now we’re not sure how they work together,” she said.

    Former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould says Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his staff tried to get her to change her mind about refusing a remediation agreement for SNC-Lavalin, which was charged in 2015 with trying to bribe officials in Libya. Trudeau denies any improper influence took place.

    The OECD working group on bribery issued a warning earlier this week that it is monitoring the investigation of the allegations because it finds them concerning.

    Moulette said the United States is a leader in enforcement and notes it has had deferred-prosecution agreements (or DPAs, another label for remediation agreements) since 1977 and they may be one of the reasons why the U.S. has been more successful at enforcement.

    The U.S. also allows for civil and administrative charges that can be less onerous to prove in court, and that is something Canada should look at,said James Cohen, executive director of Transparency International’s Canadian office.

    He said DPAs and administrative charges also encourage companies to self-report bribery when they find their employees have engaged in it, and the main reason for the anti-bribery laws is to change how the world views bribery.

    “What we need to get away from is the idea that that’s just the way business is done in some of these countries,” he said.

    Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press



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    Father of seven children who were killed in Halifax house fire remains in coma

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  • HALIFAX — The father of seven children killed in a ferocious fire remains in a coma, a month after flames engulfed their Halifax home.

    Muslim community leaders say Ebraheim Barho has undergone multiple surgeries and remains in the intensive care unit of a Halifax hospital with his wife Kawthar at his side.

    Sheikh Wael Haridy of the Nova Scotia Islamic Community Centre says the grief-stricken mother is struggling with the loss of her children, who ranged in age from three months to their teens, while her husband remains in coma.

    Imam Abdallah Yousri of the Ummah Mosque says the community continues to wait and pray for his recovery.

    Although some relatives of the Syrian refugee family have arrived in Canada to offer support, efforts are still underway to bring more family members.

    Halifax deputy fire Chief David Meldrum says there are no updates on the investigation into the tragic house fire in the Spryfield neighbourhood.

    Once a cause has been determined, he says Halifax Fire and Emergency will hold a news conference to share the details with the public.

    The home on Quartz Drive was torn down earlier this month. All that remains at the grim site is the concrete foundation.

    Meldrum says he cannot comment on an ongoing investigation or the reason for any possible delay, but says “it’s fair to say that in the course of fire investigations generally, interviewing witnesses who may have information is an obvious item of importance to us.”

    Ebraheim Barho was rushed to hospital on Feb. 19 suffering from extensive burns and was placed in a medically induced coma.

    A GoFundMe campaign has raised more than $700,000 for the family.

    The Canadian Press


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    Wilson-Raybould to reveal more details, documents on SNC-Lavalin affair

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  • OTTAWA — Jody Wilson-Raybould plans to reveal more — in writing — about her accusation that she faced improper pressure to prevent the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin.

    The former attorney general has written to the House of Commons justice committee to advise that she intends to make a written submission.

    She says the submission will disclose “relevant facts and evidence” in her possession that will further clarify her previous oral testimony at the committee and “elucidate the accuracy” of statements made by other witnesses who followed her.

    “I trust that the committee will receive this information as part of, and in follow-up to, my testimony on Feb. 27, 2019,” Wilson-Raybould writes. 

    “Further, I do hope my response to the committee’s specific request and the additional information will assist the committee in completing its study on this important matter and in preparing its final report.”

    The Liberal-dominated committee shut down its investigation into the affair on Tuesday, with Liberal members concluding no rules or laws were broken.

    Opposition parties have been demanding Prime Minister Justin Trudeau grant a blanket waiver of solicitor-client privilege and cabinet confidentiality to allow Wilson-Raybould to more fully tell her story.

    Wilson-Raybould says the additional information she will provide in her written submission will stay within the confines of the waiver she has already been granted, covering the period last fall when she claims to have been pressured up to Jan. 14 when she was shuffled out of her dual role as justice minister and attorney general.

    Her letter comes the day after former cabinet minister Jane Philpott fanned the flames of the SNC-Lavalin fire in an interview to Maclean’s magazine, saying there is “much more to the story” — a report that landed in the midst of a Conservative-orchestrated filibuster over the controversy.

    The filibuster, which continued until almost 1 a.m. Friday, was intended to protest Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s refusal to offer a blanket waiver of privilege and confidentiality that Wilson-Raybould has claimed is necessary if she is to fully tell her side of the story.

    Philpott, who resigned early this month as Treasury Board president, told Maclean’s that she raised concerns with Trudeau, during a Jan. 6 discussion about an imminent cabinet shuffle, that Wilson-Raybould was being moved out of Justice because of her refusal to intervene in the SNC-Lavalin case.

    “I think Canadians might want to know why I would have raised that with the prime minister a month before the public knew about it. Why would I have felt that there was a reason why Minister Wilson-Raybould should not be shuffled?” she said. “My sense is that Canadians would like to know the whole story.”

    But Philpott actually appears to already be free to talk about that Jan. 6 conversation with Trudeau: The government has waived solicitor-client privilege and cabinet confidentiality for last fall, when Wilson-Raybould alleges she was improperly pressured, until Jan. 14, when she was moved to the Veterans Affairs portfolio. The waiver applies not just to Wilson-Raybould but to “any persons who directly participated in discussions with her” relating to the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin for alleged corrupt practices in Libya.

    That waiver allowed Wilson-Raybould to testify for nearly four hours before the House of Commons justice committee.

    On Thursday, Trudeau rejected the opposition parties’ contention, echoed by Philpott, that a broader waiver is required to cover the period between Jan. 14 and Wilson-Raybould’s resignation from cabinet a month later.

    “It was extremely important that the former attorney general be allowed to share completely her perspectives, her experiences on this issue, and that is what she was able to do,” he said after an announcement in Mississauga, pumping up the latest budget’s promise to invest $2.2 billion more in municipal infrastructure projects.

    “The issue at question is the issue of pressure around the Lavalin issue while she was attorney general and she got to speak fully to that.”

    Trudeau also gave his version of the Jan. 6 conversation with Philpott, during which he informed her she would be moving to Treasury Board and that Wilson-Raybould would be taking her place at Indigenous Services. His version echoed the testimony of his former principal secretary, Gerald Butts, to the justice committee.

    “She asked me directly if this was in link to the SNC-Lavalin decision and I told her no, it was not,” Trudeau said. “She then mentioned it might be a challenge for Jody Wilson-Raybould to take on the role of Indigenous Services and I asked her for her help, which she gladly offered to give, in explaining to Jody Wilson-Raybould how exciting this job was and what a great thing it would be for her to have that role.”

    Wilson-Raybould ultimately turned down the move to Indigenous Services and Trudeau moved her instead to Veterans Affairs. She resigned a month later.

    The Canadian Press




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