Editorial

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This article was published 16/8/2019 (468 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It has long been a staple of the scary-movie genre for the final few frames to feature an image of a gravesite, where the innocents terrorized throughout the previous 90 minutes believe "the thing" that brought their nightmares to life has finally, mercifully been laid to rest.

And then... from the still-moist gravetop soil, out shoots a mangled, menacing and meant-to-make-you-scream hand, suggesting even after the credits roll, those unwitting onscreen townsfolk are in for much more mayhem.

Ethics report reveals new details in SNC affair

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada Jody Wilson-Raybould take part in the grand entrance as the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation commission is released in Ottawa on December 15, 2015. After months of unrelenting news coverage, hours of oral testimony and reams of written submissions to a House of Commons committee on the SNC-Lavalin affair, the federal ethics watchdog has still managed to unearth some details that give new life to the controversy on the eve of an election campaign. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada Jody Wilson-Raybould take part in the grand entrance as the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation commission is released in Ottawa on December 15, 2015. After months of unrelenting news coverage, hours of oral testimony and reams of written submissions to a House of Commons committee on the SNC-Lavalin affair, the federal ethics watchdog has still managed to unearth some details that give new life to the controversy on the eve of an election campaign. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Posted: 15/08/2019 3:00 AM

OTTAWA - After months of unrelenting news coverage, hours of oral testimony and reams of written submissions to a House of Commons committee on the SNC-Lavalin affair, the federal ethics watchdog has still managed to unearth some details that give new life to the controversy on the eve of an election campaign.

Ethics commissioner Mario Dion's report released Wednesday concludes that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau violated ethics law by improperly pressuring former attorney general Jody-Wilson Raybould to halt criminal prosecution of the Montreal engineering giant.

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It’s an apt political metaphor for this week in Canadian politics — except in the horror show that has been Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s past 12 months, the horrifying hand has arrived clutching the federal Ethics Commissioner’s report on the Liberal government’s handling of the SNC-Lavalin affair.

Mr. Trudeau probably thought — after being pilloried for months in Parliament and the press over his reported attempts to coerce former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould into intervening in the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin on fraud and bribery charges related to its overseas business dealings — the issue had run its course and the scandal was finally behind him, leaving plenty of time to focus on other policy issues and pre-election posturing.

However... like the cinematic spectre attached to the frightening final-frame fingers, it’s back.

Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion’s 63-page report offered blunt condemnation, concluding that Mr. Trudeau broke conflict-of-interest laws by repeatedly seeking to pressure Ms. Wilson-Raybould into forcing the director of public prosecutions to grant SNC-Lavalin a deferred prosecution agreement and by abusing the power of his high office to further the private interests of a third party.

"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," Mr. Dion wrote.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau probably thought the issue had run its course and the scandal was finally behind him. (Peter Power / The Canadian Press files)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau probably thought the issue had run its course and the scandal was finally behind him. (Peter Power / The Canadian Press files)

The report, to borrow an adjective from its author, is troubling; so, too, is Mr. Trudeau’s rather Janus-faced response. The PM on Wednesday made rather a grand gesture of declaring that he takes full responsibility for what occurred, but then effectively walked it back by stating he won’t apologize for his actions because he doesn’t believe he did anything wrong.

On one hand, the PM offered: "The buck stops with the prime minister. I assume responsibility for everything that happened in my office. This is important because I truly feel what happened over the past year shouldn’t have happened."

On the other hand: "Taking responsibility means recognizing that what we did over the past year wasn’t good enough. But at the same time, I can’t apologize for standing up for Canadian jobs, because that’s part of what Canadians expect me to do."

The PM on Wednesday made rather a grand gesture of declaring that he takes full responsibility for what occurred, but then effectively walked it back by stating he won’t apologize for his actions because he doesn’t believe he did anything wrong.

When the SNC-Lavalin scandal first broke last spring, the Liberal government’s polling numbers took a body-blow hit, with the PM’s approval rating dropping from 44 per cent at the end of 2018 to 32 per cent by last April.

Mr. Trudeau appeared to have weathered the early 2019 storm, however, and had recovered some of the support that was lost during the first SNC-Lavalin wave.

With two months until election day, however, the hand of scandal has re-emerged. What remains to be seen is whether the Liberals can once again escape its grip, or if this time they’ll be dragged down once and for all.