No One Is above the Law

Commentary, Government, Brian Giesbrecht

Nearly a month ago, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer called on the RCMP to investigate the Prime Minister’s conduct in the SNC Lavalin case.  Ethics Commissioner Dion found that the Prime Minister breached Section 9 of The Conflict of Interest Act, when he repeatedly and improperly pressured then-Minister of Justice and Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould to consider a deferred prosecution agreement with SNC Lavalin.  The problem, Wilson-Raybould made it very clear to the Prime Minister that she wouldn’t.

Since then the RCMP have been examining the issue closely, however, they have not launched an official investigation. If there is reasonable and probable grounds then charges should be laid.Section 139 of the Criminal Code states a person who “wilfully attempts in any manner to obstruct, pervert or defeat the course of justice in a judicial proceeding” is guilty of obstruction of justice. In the Prime Minister’s case the only explanation he has given for his actions is that he did whatever he needed to do “to protect Canadian jobs.” Such an explanation would not be a defence to such a charge if the other elements of the offence were, all, proven by the Crown.  If charged, tried, and convicted, the Prime Minister’s explanation may be taken into consideration at the sentencing stage.

The findings of the ethics commissioner supports the oppositions’ request that the RCMP be called in, however, such an investigation should have been called long before the ethics commissioner made his findings. 

In fact, in February five former attorney generals made a similar request to the RCMP.  But, the latest request to call in the police is now on much firmer ground given ethics commissioner Dion’s unequivocal findings. The report used strong and clear language in describing Trudeau’s “flagrant attempts to influence Wilson-Raybould” and how the Prime Minister “sought to influence Ms. Wilson-Raybould both directly and through the actions of his agents” and “circumvent, undermine and ultimately attempt to discredit the decision of the Director of Public Prosecutions.” 

Judicial proceedings against SNC Lavalin were underway when all of this took place.

The company was casting about for a way out of its legal quagmire, and the Prime Minister and his office – with the very major exception of Wilson-Raybould and her staff – were actively assisting the company in its attempts. It could be argued that the Prime Minister and his staff were aiding and abetting the defendant that the Justice arm of his own government were trying to convict. 

Would a judge find the Prime Minister guilty of obstructing justice or attempting to obstruct justice under these circumstances? That is not at all clear if a broad view is taken.  There has never been an obstruction case exactly like this one before, but in this instance, there is a case that can be made.

The single most damning piece of evidence in the case against the Prime Minister is that the ethics commissioner was unable to get a full picture of what actually occurred because he was denied access to vital evidence.  Nine potential witnesses came forward with evidence potentially relevant to Dion’s investigation, but the witnesses felt constrained by cabinet confidence. Dion asked that the witnesses be allowed to speak with him candidly, but the request was denied. 

Dion concluded his report with “Decisions that affect my jurisdiction under the Act, by setting parameters on my ability to receive evidence, should be made transparently and democratically by Parliament, not by the very same public office holders who are subject to the regime I administer.”

The ‘buck’ must stop with the Prime Minister,  accused by the ethics commissioner of being denied access to critical information for the report he was mandated to write. This “j’accuse” from Mr. Dion demands a criminal investigation. The denial of the ethics commissioner’s reasonable request smacks of obstruction.

It appears that the RCMP brass have decided to wait until the fall election is over before they actively actively resume this investigation. But just consider a scenario that has the Liberals being returned to power, and criminal charges then being laid against the Prime Minister and possibly some of his subordinates. There would be chaos, and a very angry Canadian public. The RCMP should rethink. 

If the RCMP do investigate, they will most likely be accused by Liberal supporters of adding more ballast to an already creaking Liberal ship especially during an election. If the RCMP do not investigate, they will be accused by Conservatives, NDP’ers and Green Party supporters of bowing to the current political masters.

As to the question “Should they launch an investigation?” The answer is clearly “yes”. No one is above the law.