No apology for ethics breach

World | REUTERS 16 Aug 2019

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accepted a watchdog's report that he breached ethics rules by trying to influence a corporate legal case but refused to apologize, saying he had been trying to defend jobs.

Independent ethics commissioner Mario Dion said Trudeau and his team attempted last year to undermine a decision by federal prosecutors that construction company SNC-Lavalin Group Inc should face a corruption trial.

"I fully accept this report ... I take full responsibility. The buck stops with the prime minister," said Trudeau, adding that he nevertheless disagreed with some of Dion's conclusions.

Dion's scathing 58-page assessment could hurt Trudeau's chances of retaining power in a general election in October.

The scandal over SNC-Lavalin, which erupted in early February, battered Trudeau's image as a youthful progressive at the helm of a government that had vowed to be transparent. He is the first Canadian prime minister found to have broken federal ethics rules.

The firm, a major employer in Quebec, wanted to take advantage of a 2018 law allowing it to escape with a fine rather than be prosecuted for bribing officials in Libya.

Trudeau admitted he tried last year to persuade former Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould to reconsider the prosecutor's decision to press ahead with a trial. The affair prompted the resignation of two high-profile female cabinet ministers, his closest personal aide Gerry Butts, and the head of the federal bureaucracy.

Dion found Trudeau had contravened conflict of interest rules forbidding public office holders from trying to improperly further another person's private interests.

Wilson-Raybould refused to overrule the prosecutor's decision and was demoted in a cabinet shuffle. She subsequently resigned.

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