SNC-Lavalin: Charges to settlement, have lessons been learned?

The significance of corporate criminality and leverage is illustrated through the business activities of a Canadian multi-national company. Economic and political impropriety are often welded together to reap dividends, however is it not time to redress the balance in favour of the collective good?

Sharon Hartles (002)

Sharon Hartles was awarded a Master of Arts in Crime and Justice (with distinction) from the Open University in December 2019. She has an interest in crimes of the powerful, including state and state-corporate crime.In an explicit attempt to move beyond criminology, she draws upon a zemiological approach to evidence the social, political and economic context in which crime is produced and interwoven into society via socio-economic inequalities.

Liam Miles

Liam miles is a Criminology student at Birmingham City University and has a passion for writing on a range of topics including structural inequalities, systematic violence, conflict in the Middle East, Corporate and White Collar crime, and various theoretical paradigms to crime and deviance. He also works in the Students Union as Vice president for Academic Experience.

 

 

 

On the 19th of February 2015, corruption and fraud charges were filed in the Court of Quebec by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) against SNC-Lavalin and two of its divisions (SNC-Lavalin Construction Inc. and its subsidiary, SNC-Lavalin International Inc.). The alleged criminal acts took place between August 2001 and September 2011 and consisted of an exchange of ‘almost $47.9 million to Libyan government officials to use their positions to influence government decisions’ and defrauding ‘the Libyan government and other entities of “property, money or valuable security or service” worth almost $129.8 million.’  According to a statement released by RCMP, the then Assistant Commissioner Gilles Michaud, “The charges laid today demonstrate how the RCMP continues to support Canada’s international commitments and safeguard its integrity and reputation,” It will come as no surprise to note that the charges and statement were met with a counter public statement issued by SNC-Lavalin in which it declared the charges to be without merit.

The potential harm and wider-reaching ramifications which a guilty verdict would have incurred should not be understated. If SNC-Lavalin Group were to have been convicted of offences under the Canadian Criminal Code (or under these acts: Competition Act, Controlled Drugs and Substance Act, Corruption of Foreign Officials Act, Excise Tax Act, Financial Administration Act, Income Tax Act, Lobbying Act) they would have been ineligible to compete for federal contracts for ten years. In line with the Integrity framework regime which was introduced in 2015, a government–wide ban prohibits federal departments from doing business for a period of 10 years with companies who have engaged in improper conduct. This 10 year ban is in place to ensure the Canadian government does business only with ethical suppliers in Canada and abroad.

In 2018, SNC-Lavalin was ranked Canada’s top contractor, for the third consecutive year, generating around US$9.8 billion in revenue. Such an assertion is supported by SNC-Lavalin’s annual reports financial highlights for  2019, 2018, 2017, 2016 and  2015. On its 2015 report as at 31st December, SNC-Lavalin declared a figure of 36,754, as the number of people employed, of which around 9,000 of these reside in Canada. With this in mind, it is clearer to comprehend the potential global harm a conviction outcome would have set in motion and therefore why this may have been deemed not to be in the best interests of the Canadian government. With that noted an alternative arrangement to a 10 year ban had to be devised.

A solution presented itself in the form of a remediation agreement, also known as a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) which defers or suspends criminal charges. However, in 2015, when the charges were filed against SNC-Lavalin Group remediation agreements did not exist within Canadian law. Taking that into account, in 2016 SNC-Lavalin successfully lobbied government officials, and the direct result was that as part of the 2018 federal budget, Canada’s Criminal Code was amended to encompass the newly adopted DPA regime for corporate wrongdoing in Canada. This truth cannot be dismissed because it is reinforced in the report published in August 2019, by the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion: Ethics Commissioner’s report on Justin Trudeau and the SNC-Lavalin scandal.

The Dion Ethics Report sheds light on the political interference which surrounded the issuing of a DPA for SNC-Lavalin Group. Jody Wilson-Raybould, Minister of the Attorney General (2015–2019) stood before the Justice Committee on the 27th February 2019, and stated that between September and December 2018, she “experienced a consistent and sustained effort by many people within the government to seek to politically interfere in the exercise of prosecutorial discretion in my role as the attorney general of Canada in an inappropriate effort to secure a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) with SNC Lavalin”.

According to the Dion report findings, the Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau (2015 – present) and members of his party had breached section 9 of the Conflict of Interest Act. This conclusion was reached with evidence that detailed how the former clerk to the Privy Council Michael Wernick, (2016- 2019) allegedly telephoned Jody Wilson-Raybould on the 19th December 2018 and stated “The Prime Minister wants to be able to say that he has tried everything he can within the legitimate tool box, so he is quite determined, quite firm, but wants to know why the DPA route which parliament provided for isn’t being used”. The Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion concluded that Justin Trudeau made attempts to influence the Attorney General’s Department to politically steer the case against SNC-Lavalin to see a remediation agreement achieved. In his defence, Justin Trudeau maintained that he was looking to protect Canadian jobs after the company warned a conviction at trial risked damaging its business.

What is of interest is that in November 2018, SNC-Lavalin was categorised in the top 27% of all companies registered in the Corporate Political Engagement Index as being a key government stakeholder and donator to the Trudeau administration. Since the genesis of the prosecution case against SNC-Lavalin in 2017, the company exerted a very broad lobbying effort to secure legal and political assistance. Such assistance extended beyond the lobbying of numerous staff within the Prime Minister’s Office (and the Prime Minister himself) and went as far as the Minsters of the Department for Finance, International Trade, Innovation, Science and Economic development. In the words of criminologist John Muncie in his work titled Decriminalising Criminology this may evidence ‘the legal transgressions routinely employed by those wielding political and economic power and their ability to deny or conceal the harms they unleash under the protection of the law.’

On the 18th December 2019, SNC-Lavalin pleaded guilty to fraud over its Libyan activities. Its construction division pleaded guilty to a single count of fraud. All other charges were withdrawn in the settlement. The outcome of which was a probation order and a fine amounting to C$280m ($213m; £163m) to be paid over five years and a three-year probation order. SNC-Lavalin stated:

  • ‘It had cleaned house and changed its ways since 2012.’
  • ‘openly lobbied for an agreement that would allow it to avoid prosecution and instead face alternative penalties’
  • ‘admitted that over the course of a decade almost C$48m ($36m; £28m) was directed to Saadi Gaddafi’’

In the aftermath of the SNC-Lavalin and the political scandal, damage has been done. On the one hand, by midday, the date the settlement of criminal charges was imposed, trading had resumed and SNC-Lavalin shares jumped 20 per cent to C$29.01. On the other hand, SNC-Lavalin reported a 6% drop in revenue during the first six months of 2019 to US$3.5bn from US$3.8bn in the corresponding period. This drop in revenue is a side-effect of what Ian Edwards (who was promoted to the post of interim president and chief executive officer of SNC-Lavalin from the 11th June 2019) referred to as a ‘really tough quarter’. Furthermore, data generated by the 2019 Transparency International index of global corruption, indicates that Canada has slipped and now ranks 12th on the list of 180 countries assessed. This is a decrease of three places compared to the 2018 index.

SNC-Lavalin avoided being barred from applying for lucrative federal contracts, meaning it has been able to return to generating billions in profit and billions in revenue. There is no disputing that SNC-Lavalin is one of the world’s largest engineering and construction companies and in line with its Annual Report 2019, as at 31st December 2019, it employed 47,000 people around the world. Having said that, this provides a broader understanding of SNC-Lavalin’s impact within an economic and social context and why it has a duty to enhance society. By investing in Corporate Social Responsibility and implementing this into practice, corporate citizenship can benefit society whilst simultaneously boosting companies reputations. To safeguard its world-wide workforce it is essential SNC-Lavalin be mindful of the consequences of its future profiteering endeavors. Only time will tell if lessons have been learned and if SNC-Lavalin has truly drawn a line under its corporate-wrongdoing.

 

Also posted on:  sharonhartles.weebly.com  and  https://liamcrime.blogspot.com/

 

Contact

Sharon Hartles   

Email: sh28739@ou.ac.uk

Twitter: @shartles1

Liam Miles

Email: liam.miles@mail.bcu.ac.uk

Twitter @liam_miles1

 

Images: courtesy of the authors

Higher Education and Desistance from Offending

The authors discuss the role of Higher Education in facilitating desistance from offending.

Authors image

Debbie Jones is an Associate Professor of Criminology and Director for Undergraduate Studies, Swansea University. Mark Jones was an Associate Professor and Head of the Department of Adult and Continuing Education at Swansea University at the time of the research. Our lead partner in this research is The hub in Swansea.

It is often the case that those entrenched in patterns of offending find it difficult to stop due to stigma, discrimination and other structural issues limiting opportunities to bolster aspiration (Ministry of Justice; Shapland & Bottoms). Several studies have concluded that studying within Higher Education (HE) can be a significant ‘hook for change’ offering development of personal agency and widening positive social networks, key factors towards desistance   (Lockwood et al., 2012; Runnell, 2017).

Yet, despite widening access to HE being a global endeavour (Evans et al., 2017), the Prison Education Trust highlight that HE can feel unwelcoming for those with a criminal record. Evans et al (2017) found that despite a drive to widen participation and access to HE in Wales, the internal culture and narrative can become ‘entangled’ re-enforcing the status quo at the expense of developing non-traditional student participation such as adult learners. Evans et al (ibid) conclude more needs to be done to assure greater equality across all demographics of society. We were therefore interested in how HE might be considered a useful public criminology approach for crime avoidance and support marginalised groups to reach their full potential.

This Blog shares our research carried out in Swansea, Wales which was funded by the Society for Research into Higher Education. The project explored the aspirations, barriers, and challenges for those at risk of offending to study in HE and considered what might be needed to support the desire to desist from offending within the context of a HE setting.  The project brought together academics, third sector and statutory agencies and most importantly we worked with those at risk of (re)offending as partners by carrying out research through ‘doing with’ rather than, ‘researching on’.

The data collection phase consisted of two engagement events. One for those that had offended or were at risk of offending and were members of our partner and host organisation ‘The Hub’ (n = 16) and the other with practitioners who worked with people at risk including two participants who were also studying at Higher Education and had offended (n = 10).

We adopted a Pictorial Narrative Approach as a data collection tool and community engagement activity which captures participant’s narratives in a visual manner using drawings, words and symbols and offered immediate triangulation and increased trustworthiness of the findings (Glaw, et al., 2017) through a focus group format.  The research produced interesting data with common themes across both groups.

Aspirations varied but everyone wanted to be happy and ‘get back on track.’ A common desire was to ‘sort my head out’ and have better mental health and well-being which was seen as a ‘daily struggle.’

Pictorial image

Pictorial imageSeveral people stated getting back on track in life meant getting a job with some wanting to use their own experiences to help others. The two most dominant aspirations related to positive family ties and relationships, and employment and these were often offered together. Getting back on track related to feeling secure and notions of home, family, health, employment and money. Such aspirations are key drivers to desistance (McNeill) and might be the necessary pre-requisites before any consideration can be given to embarking on HE. However, one of the more concerning factors that came through in the data was the haunting experiences of previous education.

Pictorial image

Indeed, 12 of the 16 participants in the first focus group reported negative experiences, and like a ‘lost soul swimming in a fish bowl’ with loneliness and isolation a difficult past experiences to overcome. Many also recounted the negative learning experiences within the classroom related to ‘getting the answers wrong’ and being ‘told off’ and ‘sent to the back of the class.’ This left many feeling publicly embarrassed, intimidated, seen as a problem and not wanting to engage in future learning. All participants stated that they felt they had not been given a fair chance.

Jones image 4

Ten participants identified learning difficulties as a barrier to education and that their behaviour led to exclusion. A common theme was bullying experiences within education from both teachers and peers. Ultimately this meant that most had feelings of alienation and resentment towards primary and secondary school and that it didn’t meet their needs.

Most participants had experiences of child and teenage abuse (neglect, physical and ‘dark’ stuff) and had been within the care and or criminal justice system during primary and secondary education and that due to all of this they were not ready for education.

However, for participants who had been to prison, it was often ‘the beginning of their education’ where they found hope and aspiration. Prison education was viewed as offering opportunity to develop basic skills such as reading and writing and for one participant it offered the chance to pursue a higher level of educational attainment which they pursued at University on release from prison.

Jones image 5Most participants identified university as marketing itself as a vehicle for gaining employment but really ‘just wanted the money.’ Three of the participants in the first group had attended university and felt the level of debt acquired during a degree was excessive and there were no guarantees that it would lead to a job.

One participant who studied Drama at university, said he had been promised the degree would lead to future opportunities but the course kept changing throughout and he felt let down by the institution.

There was a general mistrust of university and people that worked there and that the university was out for itself and getting money and that it viewed people like them in negative ways and didn’t always support future employment.

There was recognition however that university could help people gain confidence and improve their well-being. One participant reported, ‘I applied for university but they rejected me because of my conviction, only drink related offences mind you, but they rejected me anyway but even when I walk across the campus now I feel proud and it makes me walk with my head heal high – the university has a good vibe about it’.

Pictorial imageParticipants felt that universities need to develop inclusive environments that widen access and offer opportunities to those with a criminal past.

Barriers reported by the participants focused on funding, judgment, mental health and stigma due to their previous criminal conviction(s).

All participants from the first group were claiming benefits and felt university was completely out of reach and that the debt associated with going to university wasn’t worth it. Many of group do not have access to transport so simply paying public transport fares was viewed as out of their reach most of the time.

The participants reported that they felt their convictions would prevent them from going to university. One participant reported that he had been told that he needed to be ‘clean from drugs for two years before I can start doing courses, it’s really fucking hard’. Another participant articulated the views of the group when he said, ‘if you have the money they’ll take you but not if you have a conviction’.

The expression of isolation and stigma associated with a criminal conviction was overwhelming for this group and that university ‘didn’t want someone like me’ due to this. The group did want to access HE but the thought of entering into an institution was overwhelming. The words used included ‘scary’ ‘intimidating’ ‘big.’

Pictorial imagePictorial image

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

They expressed a desire for a new type of HE which focused on delivery to them in their community setting, supported by workers who understood their background and specific needs.

A few participants felt that if they were not treated appropriately in respect of their background and needs, they would likely get angry, frustrated and harm their confidence.

So what does this mean and what can HE do to actually be more supportive of potential students with offending backgrounds and really be a widening access environment? We believe that there are some very clear opportunities that HE could offer to support people who have offended, or are at risk of offending, and these include:

  1. Higher Education based within the ‘community’ setting to remove fear of HE campus and potential stigma and judgement
  2. Introductory and ‘hook’ HE opportunities to remove fear and stigma and build confidence and trust with HE
  3. Specialist trained student services to meet needs of those students with a criminal record or risk of offending
  4. Free HE opportunities to support motivations and aspirations of HE
  5. Better outreach and marketing of HE and student loan system to those at risk of offending
  6. Higher Education opportunities within prisons that support transition to community setting upon release

We are working on developing such initiatives in Swansea as well as applying for more funding to research this exciting and emerging area on desistance and HE.

 

References

  1. Evans, C., Rees, G., Taylor, C., & Wright, C. (2017). ‘Widening Access’ to higher education: The reproduction of university hierarchies through policy enactment. Journal of Education Policy, 34(1), 101-116.
  2. Glaw, X., Inder, K., Kable, A, and Hazelton, M.(2017), ‘Visual Methodologies in Qualitative Research: Autophotography and Photo Elicitation Applied to Mental Health Research’. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 16, 1-8
  3. Lockwood, S., Nally, J., Ho, T., & Knutson, K., (2012). ‘The Effect of Correctional Education on Postrelease Employment and Recidivism: A 5-Year Follow-Up Study in the State of Indiana’. Crime and Delinquency, 58(3), 380-396.
  4. McNeill, F. (2019) Rehabilitation, Corrections and Society. Retrieved July 01, 2019, from http://eprints.gla.ac.uk/159625/7/159625.pdf
  5. Ministry of Justice (2010) Understanding Desistance from Crime. Available at: http://www.safeground.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/Desistance-Fact-Sheet.pdf
  1. Prison Education Trust (2017). To be truly inclusive, universities must help prisoners feel they belong. Available at:https://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/2017/aug/16/to-be-truly-inclusive-universities-must-help-prisoners-feel-they-belong
  1. Runell, L. (2017). Identifying Desistance Pathways in a Higher Education Program for Formerly Incarcerated Individuals. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 61(8), 894-918.
  2. Shapland, J., & Bottoms, A. (2011). Reflections on social values, offending and desistance among young adult recidivists. Punishment & Society, 13(3), 256–282. https://doi.org/10.1177/1462474511404334

 

Contact

Debbie Jones, Hillary Rodham Clinton School of Law, Swansea University Deborah.a.jones@swansea.ac.uk

Twitter name – @debjonesccjc

Mark Jones, Director at Higher Plain Research & Education

Markjones1977@yahoo.co.uk

Twitter name @A_HigherPlain

 

Images: courtesy of the authors

Justice must be seen to be done

An intersectional analysis of observations of Crown Court trials for rape and serious sexual assault.

Ellen Daly

Ellen Daly is a PhD candidate at Anglia Ruskin University. Her research explores the use of rape myths and other narratives in rape and sexual assault trials in England and Wales.

 

In recent years there has been a great deal of media attention paid to the prosecution of rape. Most recently criticisms have frequently centred around the falling prosecution rate in England and Wales. Although reports of rape are increasing, the number of prosecutions continues to fall. This means that many victims are not getting the justice they are seeking through reporting to the criminal justice system. Only a tiny portion see justice, and for victim-survivors from minoritised or marginalised groups the chances of seeing a conviction are even slimmer. This begs the question “why?” – why does it seem that victim-survivors from particular groups are more likely to find justice through the criminal justice system?

Evidence suggests that victim-survivors from particular backgrounds have limited access to justice as a result of structural inequalities and various aspects of their perceived identity (see for example Lovett et al 2007 and Hester 2013). There is little contemporary research that addresses these issues, particularly in the context of criminal court. Criticisms of Crown Court responses to rape and sexual assault often focus on the influence of rape myths on trial practices and outcomes, but very little has been done to explore the links between what goes on in the courtroom and the differences in attrition rates for women from minoritised or marginalised groups. This is what my PhD research seeks to explore.

Rape myths are frequently pointed to as offering an explanation for the lack of justice for rape and sexual assault victim-survivors as a whole, and with good reason. It is well established, through a strong body of research from a range of disciplines, that rape myths are commonly accepted among the general population, including by those involved (or potentially involved) in the administration of criminal justice. This includes research that evidences the existence of rape myths at trial and their influence on jurors.

Rape myths have featured in every rape and sexual assault trial I have observed so far and have usually had the function of either blaming the victim or excusing the defendant’s alleged actions. They are utilised as a tool for casting doubt on victim-survivor testimony and to bolster the defence of the accused.

In my observations I have heard the behaviour of victim-survivors being questioned, implying that but for their actions the incident would not have occurred. I heard a victim-survivor being questioned on her drinking habits and binge-drinking, even though a central argument to the defence case was that she was not drunk on the night in question. These arguments draw on rape myths that seek to minimise the behaviour of the accused by positioning the victim-survivors as bearing responsibility for what happened to them.

I have heard victim-survivors being positioned as liars who are seeking revenge or are embarrassed and regretful. In the courtroom, these myths that position women as liars rely on the misconception that false allegations of rape are common, when actually we know that not to be true.  These lines of argument may be particularly pertinent to juror decision-making when considered against the backdrop of mass media coverage regarding collapsed cases.

These myths can be applied to all victim-survivors though, so their presence doesn’t necessarily answer what could be happening to impact specifically on those from minortised and marginalised groups. Provisional findings from my research indicate that one possibility is that narratives around social class are used in trial and that they intersect with the gendered rape myths that are already known to exist in the courtroom.

There are no direct references to social class, it is more subtly implied through small seeds sown throughout the trial. There are frequent references to victim-survivors and defendants being uneducated and unintelligent, which come against the context of evidence which establishes that they live in an impoverished town, on a council estate, that they receive state benefits, are unemployed or are in insecure work. All of which are things that are reflective of working-class stereotypes in our society. The work of Charles Murray in the 1990s on the so-called ‘underclass’ in Britain and its subsequent and continued uptake by the media and politicians, provides a starting point for arguing that stereotypes often portray working-class people as poorly educated or of lower intelligence compared to those deemed middle- and upper-class.

In my observations, defendants being of low intelligence was being presented by the defence as an inability to lie or pretend, positioning them as the credible party the juries should believe above the victim-survivors. To illustrate, two trials included text message evidence of what could be read as confessions to the events in question. In these trials the specific wording used by the defendants was thoroughly picked apart by both prosecution and defence, with the prosecution proclaiming that the defendants’ explanations were ridiculous. Whilst on the other hand, the defence in both cases rationalised the choice of words as being because the defendants are uneducated or unintelligent, that his words were not intended as a confession to rape or sexual assault and can simply be explained by his poor grasp of English grammar and vocabulary. These narratives are taking the counter-side of the ‘women lie’ rape myth, by suggesting that these ‘unintelligent’ working-class men are too stupid to lie convincingly and therefore must be believed.

Other narratives related to social class draw on middle-class ideals of respectability. Victim-survivors are portrayed as not conforming to these standards of respectability, whether that be through their drinking habits or the way they present themselves. We needn’t look much further than reality TV to evidence how young women, particularly those from working-class backgrounds, have been portrayed as heavy drinkers whose behaviour and ways of dressing are used to depict them as ‘easy’ and ‘up for anything’ (recent examples include Geordie Shore and TOWIE). This of course links to gendered rape myths around respectability, which are based on middle-class ideals.

The findings I’ve outlined here perhaps begin to answer how some groups of victim-survivors appear to have a lower chance of seeing a conviction in their cases. Narratives drawing on victim-survivors’ and defendants’ perceived identity or membership to a particular group, which in the examples outlined here related to social class, intersect with gendered rape myth narratives. Therefore it is not only rape myths that play a role in undermining the credibility of victim-survivors and bolstering the presumed innocence of defendants. The reality inside the courtroom is much more nuanced than that. Myth-busting measures are unlikely to have the desired effect without taking account of broader structural inequalities. Fair justice cannot come from a system where convictions and acquittals can be made based on myths and stereotypes.

Contact

Ellen Daly, Anglia Ruskin University

Email: Ellen.daly@pgr.anglia.ac.uk

 

Copyright free images courtesy of the author