Justin Trudeau violated law by urging that case be dropped - watchdog

Egbert and Mevan Babakar

Ethics czar's SNC-Lavalin report 'affirms the position I have taken': Jody Wilson-Raybould

"My job as a prime minister is to stand up for Canadians and defend their interests", Trudeau said.

What is the SNC-Lavalin affair?

The claim by some, debunked by many, is that if SNC-Lavalin is prosecuted and banned from bidding on federal contracts for 10 years that the company would leave Canada or layoff its 9,000 workers. Business could go on as usual.

In his report, Dion said: "The evidence showed there were many ways in which Mr. Trudeau, either directly or through the actions of those under his direction, sought to influence the attorney general".

In early February 2016, it became clear that the company was putting the word out to Trudeau and various government bodies that a remediation agreement was desirable.

The affair marked the low point of Trudeau's nearly four-year tenure and prompted the resignation of two high-profile female cabinet ministers, his closest personal aide Gerry Butts, and the head of the federal bureaucracy.

In March, Wilson-Raybould released a secretly recorded phone conversation in which Michael Wernick, an aide to Trudeau, told Wilson-Raybould that Trudeau, fearing the potential for job losses, "is determined, quite firm", to avoid prosecution of SNC-Lavalin. Wilson-Raybould wouldn't overrule the prosecutor.

Trudeau felt so sure that the initial anger sparked by his treatment of Wilson-Raybould and Philpott had dissipated that he brought back Gerald Butts to work on the Liberal election campaign. In a 2017 decision, the ethics commissioner found Trudeau broke rules when he and his family vacationed on an island owned by the Aga Khan.

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.

Trudeau must pay a small fine of up to Can$500 (US$375) for contravening Canada's conflict of interest act, but with only two months before national elections the political costs could be much steeper.

That section of the act prohibits any official responsible for high level decision-making in government from seeking to influence the decision of another person to "improperly further another person's private interests". But if they were, Dion said, they misunderstood where the line was supposed to be.

"The authority of the prime minister and his office was used to circumvent, undermine and ultimately attempt to discredit" the attorney general's authority, Dion said.

That tension apparently included the question of a deferred prosecution agreement for SNC-Lavalin.

The report is nothing short of scathing against the prime minister.

The findings by Dion also serve a historical diet on the independence - aspirational or otherwise - of certain office holders, with the Attorney General being a singular creature in the scheme of government.

Dion's report only makes reference to a former Supreme Court chief justice, though McLachlin is the only ex-chief justice still alive.

In her report, McLellan said she does not believe that splitting the two roles would help to protect prosecutorial independence and promote public confidence in the criminal justice system. The AG might well be informed and assisted by colleagues on matters assisting in reaching a decision, but never "in telling him what that decision ought to be".

"The Report confirms critical facts, consistent with what I shared with all Canadians, and affirms the position I have taken from the outset", Wilson Raybould wrote. Under Shawcross, an attorney general can consult cabinet on decisions of prosecuting cases but is not obliged to.

Such apologetics are padded by a good dose of self-congratulation. He justified his actions, saying he was protecting Canadian jobs.

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