In the 63-page report from the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner that found Justin Trudeau on the wrong side of federal ethics law, two characters leapt off the page.
They were right there on the cover, actually, contained in the document’s title – “Trudeau II Report.” One needn’t be an expert in Roman numerals to know the II refers to the number two. Newsworthy all by itself, this report is actually the second such finding of guilt against Trudeau by the commissioner’s office, not to mention other violations from different players in his government.
The first Trudeau Report was a landmark on its own, marking the first time in Canadian history a sitting prime minister was found to have broken federal law. Trudeau is the clumsy new hire at a factory with one of those “It’s been __ days since our last accident” signs. Canada went a century and a half without a prime minister getting caught running afoul of the law, yet Trudeau has managed to do it twice in a four-year term.
This newfound habit also makes any of his excuses ring hollow. This is no vacation on the private Bahamas island of Trudeau’s “family friend,” the Aga Khan. This report exposes a deep and systemic attempt by multiple agents of the Prime Minister’s Office to interfere in former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould’s handling of what was supposed to be the independent bribery prosecution of SNC-Lavalin.
The independent director of public prosecutions decided not to offer SNC-Lavalin a deferred prosecution agreement – effectively a settlement of the still-ongoing prosecution against the company – and Wilson-Raybould agreed with her assessment.
Even so, Dion’s report found “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.”
“The authority of the Prime Minister and his office was used to circumvent, undermine and ultimately attempt to discredit the decision of the Director of Public Prosecutions as well as the authority of Ms. Wilson‑Raybould as the Crown’s chief law officer,” Dion wrote.”
The report finds a conclusion that many Canadians – myself among them – had already reached, but explains just how much the government tried to engrain itself in Wilson-Raybould’s process, even after she clearly told all involved that she had made up her mind.
Beyond the previously unearthed chapters of this story, like former Privy Council clerk Michael Wernick’s exhortation to Wilson-Raybould, which she secretly reported, the report shines a light on new tactics employed by Trudeau’s team. One of the most stunning was the PMO’s attempt to go behind Wilson-Raybould’s back to engage former Supreme Court of Canada chief justice Beverley McLachlan in the process as a “mediator,” going far beyond the previously acknowledged story that the PMO merely suggested Wilson-Raybould seek her advice independently.
Trudeau’s acceptance of responsibility seemed only to be an acknowledgement that the report exists.
“We recognize the way that this happened shouldn’t have happened. I take responsibility for the mistakes that I made,” Trudeau said. “Where I disagree with the commissioner is where he says that any contact with the attorney general on this issue was improper.”
The report hinges entirely on improper contact with Wilson-Raybould, however. So if he disputes that part of Dion’s findings, it’s not entirely clear what he thinks shouldn’t have happened.
Any genuine remorse would have been accompanied by a robust support of the investigation. Instead, Trudeau and company did the opposite: the most senior ranks of the government lawyered up to obfuscate and obstruct Dion to such an extent that his investigation’s scope had to be limited.
According to the report, nine witnesses claimed to have relevant evidence that was protected by cabinet confidence. When Dion’s office tried to get Trudeau’s prior waiver of cabinet privilege – issued ahead of Wilson-Raybould’s bombshell testimony before the justice committee – expanded, neither the Privy Council Office, Trudeau’s legal counsel, nor Trudeau himself complied.
“Because of the decisions to deny our Office further access to Cabinet confidences, witnesses were constrained in their ability to provide all evidence,” Dion wrote. “I was, therefore, prevented from looking over the entire body of evidence to determine its relevance to my examination.”
Just as with the Bahamas finding, Trudeau chalks it all up to a misunderstanding – a difference of opinion between he and the person who gets to have the final say on these matters. The difference with this report is that it comes on the eve of a federal election. Canadians get to decide whether he has the chance to break the rules a third time.
Photo Credit: Jeff Burney, Loonie Politics
Andrew Lawton is a fellow at the True North Initiative and a Loonie Politics columnist.
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