Dion concluded that Trudeau used his authority to 'circumvent, undermine and ultimately discredit' the decision of the director of public prosecutions not to offer a remediation agreement to SNC-Lavalin
OTTAWA — Ethics commissioner Mario Dion pulled no punches in a damning report released Wednesday following an investigation into the SNC-Lavalin affair, by far his highest-profile undertaking since his appointment in January 2018.
Dion’s nomination by the Liberal government received a mixed response from opposition parties, and the longtime public servant made headlines when he wouldn’t immediately commit to pursuing ongoing investigations into the prime minister and the finance minister. He later surprised opposition parties when he cleared Finance Minister Bill Morneau last June of conflict-of-interest allegations regarding pension legislation he introduced while holding shares in Morneau Shepell, a pension management firm.
But if critics of the government had any concerns that Dion would go too easy on the Liberals in his role as ethics watchdog, his report on the SNC-Lavalin scandal must surely have put them to bed. In the report, Dion concluded that Trudeau used his authority to “circumvent, undermine and ultimately discredit” the decision of the director of public prosecutions not to offer a remediation agreement to SNC-Lavalin, which would have allowed the Montreal engineering giant to avoid criminal prosecution. He confirmed former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould’s allegations that she was inappropriately pressured by the prime minister and other senior officials to overrule the public prosecutor’s decision, and that she was improperly asked to consider partisan political interests.
“I find all of these tactics troubling,” he wrote. “The evidence abundantly shows that Mr. Trudeau knowingly sought to influence Ms. Wilson-Raybould both directly and through the actions of his agents.”
I find all of these tactics troubling
Dion, a Montreal native and a retired lawyer, was named federal ethics commissioner on Jan. 9, 2018, following a nearly 40-year career with the federal government. He has worked for Corrections Canada, the justice department and the Privy Council Office, and in 2003 was appointed deputy minister of Indian Residential Schools Resolution of Canada, which worked to resolve abuse claims filed by former students.
Dion came out of retirement to serve as the commissioner of public sector integrity from 2011 to 2014, a position intended to investigate wrongdoing in the federal government and to protect whistleblowers. But he came under fire when the auditor general accused his office of “gross mismanagement” of two separate case files in 2014.
He was appointed chairman of the Immigration and Refugee Board in 2015, before replacing Mary Dawson as ethics commissioner three years later.
Dion’s nomination by the Liberal government in December 2017 riled the opposition parties, who claimed the process had been secretive and took place at the last minute. “It’s just ragingly incompetent and frustrating and cynical,” former NDP ethics critic Nathan Cullen said at the time. Cullen also raised concerns about Dion’s performance as public service integrity commissioner. “Are you tough, are you fair, are you a dog with a bone?” he asked. “Would you describe yourself as somebody who pursues it to the end to make sure that it happens? Because that’s the confidence that we need.”
At the time, Dion would not commit to pursuing ongoing ethics investigations into the prime minister’s visit to the Aga Khan’s private island and into Morneau’s involvement in a pension reform bill, which also raised some concerns. Ultimately, Dawson completed the Aga Khan investigation before leaving the office — she found, for the first time, that Trudeau had broken conflict-of-interest rules — and Dion did pursue the Morneau investigation, but eventually cleared him.
Last fall, in a separate investigation, Dion found that former fisheries minister Dominic LeBlanc was in a conflict of interest when he awarded a lucrative fishing licence to a company with links to a family member. The licence was eventually cancelled.
Despite the Liberals’ confidence that the ethics commissioner would clear them of wrongdoing in the SNC-Lavalin affair, Dion has now firmly concluded that Trudeau has violated Canada’s conflict-of-interest law for a second time.
Though there are no sanctions attached to his finding, Dion has previously expressed interest in considering penalties for ethics violations, which would require a change to the federal legislation. “It’s not a futile question in my view,” Dion told the Globe and Mail in January 2018, shortly after his appointment. “It needs to be considered.”
He also told the newspaper that his new role would require him to be “fearless.”