Democracy Watch says Trudeau's staff should also be found guilty of violating ethics rules in SNC-Lavalin case

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      The biggest news story in Canada this morning is the ethics commissioner's report declaring that Justin Trudeau violated the Conflict of Interest Act.

      Mario Dion concluded that the prime minister's actions didn't conform with section 9 when he tried to influence former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to reconsider the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin.

      This section prohibits public office holders from using their position to seek to influence a decision of another person so as to advance their own private interests or those of a relative or friend, or to improperly further another person's private interests. 

      But an activist for clean government has suggested that Dion did not go far enough.

      Democracy Watch cofounder Duff Conacher said that the ethics commissioner should not have cleared officials in Trudeau's office of any wrongdoing because they were acting under the prime minister's authority.

      "The ethics commissioner made the right ruling by finding Prime Minister Trudeau guilty of violating the ethics law for pressuring the attorney general to drop the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin, but he should have also found other PMO and government officials guilty because they also pressured the attorney general," Conacher said in a news release. "Democracy Watch is considering challenging in court the part of the ethics commissioner's ruling that lets the other PMO and government officials off the hook given they, like the prime minister, clearly violated the federal ethics law."

      It's the second time that Trudeau has broken the Conflict of Interest Act. In 2017, Dion's predecessor—Mary Dawson—concluded that the prime minister broke the law when he accepted an all-expenses-paid trip with his family to a private island owned by the Aga Khan.

      In 2015, the Montreal-based engineering and construction-services giant SNC-Lavalin was charged with serious criminal offences in connection with its activities in Libya between 2001 and 2015.

      The corporation then lobbied government officials to create a remediation-agreement regime under which the charges could be deferred.

      In the 2018 federal budget, the Liberal government allowed deferred-prosecution agreements. Under the law, the attorney general could override a ruling by the director of public prosecutions.

      The director of public prosecutions chose not to offer this option to SNC-Lavalin and her decision was supported by Wilson-Raybould in September 2018.

      That's when Wilson-Raybould was subjected to numerous approaches by officials in the prime minister's office, who wanted her to reconsider her position.

      Wilson-Raybould told her side of the story earlier this year to the Commons justice committee, triggering an avalanche of news coverage.

      "Simply seeking to influence the decision of another person is insufficient for there to be a contravention of section 9," Dion wrote in his report. "The second stop of the analysis was to determine whether Mr. Trudeau, through his actions and those of his staff, sought to improperly further the interests of SNC-Lavalin."

      The ethics commissioner stated that the corporation "had significant financial interests in deferring prosecution".

      "These interests would likely have been furthered had Mr. Trudeau successfully influenced the Attorney General to intervene in the Director of Public Prosecutors' decision," Dion stated. "The actions that sought to further these interests were improper since they were contrary to the Shawross doctrine and the principles of prosecutorial independence and the rule of law."

      Jane Philpott (right) tweeted this photo of herself with Jody Wilson-Raybould on the day that Wilson-Raybould quit the Trudeau cabinet.

      On February 12, Wilson-Raybould resigned as the minister of veterans affairs not long after Trudeau replaced her as justice minister and attorney general with Montreal-area MP David Lametti.

      Less than a month later, Jane Philpott resigned as president of the treasury board, saying she had lost confidence in how the government had dealt with the SNC-Lavalin affair.

      In early April, Trudeau expelled both former cabinet ministers from the Liberal caucus without holding a vote, which is a requirement under the Parliament of Canada Act.

      That prompted Philpott to accuse Trudeau of violating the two MPs' rights.

      "Accordingly, a remedy is required for our situation," Philpott said to Speaker Geoff Regan in Parliament. "This matter is urgent and cannot wait for new standing orders; procedural fairness and the rule of law demand this.

      "Secret in-camera meetings or private notices should not be a shield to prevent the upholding of the law and members' rights. I ask that you find a prima facie case of privilege to ensure that the rights of members, both for expulsion and readmission, are upheld and are consistent with the law."

      Regan replied that he is not empowered to enforce statutes.