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EDITORIAL: Impartial probe into SNC-Lavalin affair is a must

Nothing less than an impartial review of the Jody Wilson-Raybould/PMO/SNC-Lavalin affair will do. —
Nothing less than an impartial review of the Jody Wilson-Raybould/PMO/SNC-Lavalin affair will do. — 123RF Stock Photo

Federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has seen enough: he wants an immediate public hanging, with a trial later, if one is absolutely necessary.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, on his first day in the House of Commons, at least wants a trial first — or a public inquiry — but, judging by his repeated comments about criminal behaviour, he seems poised to hold the post-trial hanging as soon as is reasonably practical.

And Prime Minister Justin Trudeau? Attending a party function at a safe distance from hectoring by the parliamentary press corps, he suggested that an internal review by the federal ethics commissioner was all that was needed, followed, no doubt, by very, very little action.

What a mess.

All of it, of course, is the fallout from the stunning details provided by former federal justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould during her appearance at the House of Commons Justice Committee on Wednesday.

The lengthy appearance dealt with the question of whether unreasonable pressure was put on Wilson-Raybould to interfere in a decision made by her director of public prosecutions. In a nutshell, for political and economic reasons, the government wanted Wilson-Raybould to consider allowing Quebec engineering and project management firm SNC-Lavalin to go through what’s called a deferred prosecution arrangement (DPA) to settle a criminal bribery charge over the company’s actions in Libya. A DPA would allow the company to essentially take responsibility for its actions, pay a fine and agree to other terms, but not have a conviction registered against it.

A conviction under current law would mean a 10-year ban for the company on bidding on crucial federal government contracts.

What’s clearly needed here is a thorough review of the entire process by an independent party.

Scheer’s argument — that, after Wilson-Raybould put forward her detailed description of repeated and sustained political pressure, Trudeau must immediately resign in disgrace — was a bold, if hyperbolic, gambit.

What’s clearly needed here is a thorough review of the entire process by an independent party.

The problem is that both Wilson-Raybould and the Prime Minister’s Office appear to agree that pressure was applied to have Wilson-Raybould consider the economic interests of SNC-Lavalin as part of the judicial equation.

Right now, the two sides have clearly different opinions on whether the line between reasonable concern and unreasonable interference was crossed — and frankly, on that score, Wilson-Raybould is far more convincing.

This situation will instantly turn into election fodder, clearing up nothing, and muddying the waters more.

A full, independent investigation is essential.

Once that review is done and the question of whether the pressure that Wilson-Raybould and her staff were subjected to was unreasonable, we can perhaps move on to questions of punishment.

The bottom line? Leaving the whole issue in the hands of the ethics commissioner isn’t enough.

This needs full and thorough investigation, so we have a complete picture before we vote.

Because this, quite frankly, stinks.

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