Can it be? Can a large, politically sensitive corporation with a history of buying influence avoid prosecution in this country by the mere expedient of a phone call to the prime minister’s office? Can the prime minister’s staff have charges against the corporation dropped by a quick call to the minister of justice? Is that the sort of country we live in?
After this week, we can guess how these questions would be answered in the prime minister’s office, at least: yes, of course. Indeed, long before it was reported officials in Justin Trudeau’s office had pressured the former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, Jody Wilson-Raybould, to have prosecutors set aside criminal charges against SNC-Lavalin, the giant Quebec engineering and construction firm, the government had gone to some trouble to provide the company with a softer option.
Buried deep in the 2018 omnibus budget bill was a provision allowing corporations charged with certain offences to avoid prosecution by signing so-called “remediation agreements.” In place of convictions, fines and jail times, the company and its executives are obliged, in essence, to admit they did it, put back the money, and promise never to do it again. The amendment was inserted after a strenuous campaign of public advertising and private lobbying (14 meetings with officials in the prime minister’s office alone) by — who? — why yes, SNC-Lavalin.