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

Co-ordinating a research project in 6 continents

We live in a world where we can communicate with someone across the oceans with a single click and this facilitated research on sexual harassment and sexual assault in transit environments.

The challenge and joy of coordinating a research project in 6 continents in the era of the internet

Vania Ceccato

 

Vania Ceccato is a researcher at KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden. She is also a BSC International Ambassador.

 

This story is about the challenges and potentialities of doing collaborative work in Criminology using your own computer, with no funding, but supported by a ‘gaggle’ of a highly motivated researchers, ready to work.  Back in early 2016 I was teaching undergraduates how to put together a graduation thesis and teaching them how to apply a survey to general population. I incentivized my students to explore their own mobile phones and digital devices to make the data collection. Through this I taught them how to carry out an online survey and later critically analyze the collected data. I had long wished to question Metro passengers about their safety perceptions; so I handed my students questions on sexual violence and sexual harassment in transit in particular.

That did not work very well. Students were, overall, reluctant to ask such questions and passengers were unwilling to answer them. However, I do not attribute this failure to the students or passengers.  At that time, most of us did not feel comfortable talking openly about sexual harassment, at least when compared to recent years. Therefore, it was no surprise that my students were fairly reluctant to ask transit riders about their experiences of sexual harassment while using transit. Just a year later, the appearance of the #MeToo! Movement on the internet and outside cyberspace made it easier to get information about these problematic daily-life experiences. I decided then to have another go with the survey but this time asking my own students about sexual harassment.

Things went much better—the survey was answered by more than 1500 university students in the Stockholm region. Additionally, it later gained answers from 13,323 students worldwide, in 18 cities (as shown in map below)!

Ceccato Globe

What prompted this sudden change? This project originally began with the suggestion from a colleague in USA. She thought we should extend the original survey, apply it in our respective universities, and write a comparative paper. So we did. In the process, I mentioned our ideas with colleagues in a global user-list and suddenly, we were 14 universities engaged in this global project: researchers wanted to take part and apply the survey in their own universities, from Lagos- Nigeria to Vancouver-Canada, from Tokyo-Japan to Bogota-Colombia, 3 others came along during the process. It was amazing to see so many people, determined to see this project succeed. We did not have any funding to offer and I thought it would be a big of waste of everybody’s time if people would give up along the process … but it was worth it the risk.

I was lucky in having my colleague and mentor Prof Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris at UCLA coordinating this research enterprise with me. She was equally engaged and very interested in getting an overall picture on sexual violence/harassment in transit environments. Apart from the time difference (when she was waking up in Los Angeles, I was ready to go home from work!), it was lovely to have Anastasia to discuss ideas, worries, share instructions and support anyone in the group.

Of course, in a project of such global scope, there will always be incongruences and challenges when collecting and analyzing the data. This study was no exception, we faced a number of challenges: particularly when communicating over email and using various online sharing-platforms. Interestingly enough, most of the challenges we faced had nothing to do with technology or limited funding.

One of the earliest problems was the need to obtain approval from the university and/or from a special Ethical Review Board before approaching the students with the questionnaire. This process turned out to be longer than we expected and varied from country to country (taking around one to four months). I thought some of my colleagues would give up along the way, but thankfully they persevered!

Then came translation. In order to make comparisons with other cities possible, questions were later translated into seven languages (English, Portuguese, Spanish, French, Italian, Japanese and Chinese) using Google Docs. This sharing platform ended up working very well and greatly simplified the process.

More complicated, were the differences in local and cultural norms. It was impossible to standardize all questions. In some cities the ‘race’ question in the USA (‘ethnic background’ in Sweden) was substituted with “country of birth/origin question”. In certain cases, the race/ethnicity question had to be omitted because in cities, the law does not allow asking questions on race, ethnicity or religious beliefs. Similarly in some cities, it is not considered appropriate to ask about someone’s sexual orientation in surveys, and our colleagues had to omit such questions.

We exchanged information mostly by email, and during the process of data collection and analysis, we split ourselves into smaller groups. Many of our meetings were performed over Skype or the similar communication platforms. Remote meetings did not always work but ultimately, we were able to put together a schedule of tasks to accommodate time differences between Manila, Stockholm and Los Angeles.

In all but two cases, the researchers were able to gather the minimum requested sample size of 300 students (some got more than 1000 students). To do so, they often had to follow different strategies such as adding an additional university, having a raffle with small rewards of “lucky money”. The questionnaire was distributed in different ways. For the large majority of cases, the survey was distributed electronically, either using a web platform, (for example, WordPress, Google Docs, etc.) email lists, or university pages with links to social media and to external electronic questionnaires. In a few cases, researchers distributed hard copies combined with an electronic version while in two cases, the link to the survey was posted on social media. 18 cities in 6 continents resulted in 13,323 students worldwide.

With data in hand, we provided instructions to all researchers to follow a particular set of research questions. Out of 18 case studies, 10 researchers presented their preliminary results in the Conference Crime and Fear in Public Places in Stockholm in October 2018, when a proposal for an edited book was suggested (the book proposal was later approved in early 2019). In order to homogenize the analysis and presentation processes, we created a framework of analysis and shared this via email with our colleagues. They were later invited to write essays of 2,500 words discussing their findings and contextual facts about their city. Using Skype or other communication platforms, they also worked in groups in four chapters putting together data, forming statistical analysis together and then writing.

However, our broad analysis brought with it some problems. For example, why did city A have 35% while city B had 78% in a particular question? Did they understand the instructions of analysis? This process was not always straightforward. It took months until we could agree upon a minimum set of questions and answers that were the same for everyone. Together with my co-coordinator in the USA, we combined statistics, compared results, checked and double-checked numbers and references. During that time we sent hundreds of emails, back and forth, before finally writing the final chapters, often with help from my colleagues. By August 2019, the edited volume was nearly complete. Yet, it took more than a month or so for us to get all permissions and high resolution pictures into one place before we finally submitted the book. There were many complications but eventually we did it!

So what can we take away from this research? The survey showed, without any doubt, that sexual violence/harassment in transit environments is unfortunately a common occurrence globally. However, the extent of harassment, ranges considerably from one city to the other. Additionally, the omnipresence of the potential for harassment in transit settings, leads to the adoption of certain behaviors on the transit riders behalf. Avoidance strategies prompt transit riders to avoid particular times, travel routes, and settings that are deemed as, particularly risky, or even avoid using transit completely, opting for other transportation options. This, of course, demands changes in the way transit systems are built, but also long term changes in society’s values and attitudes towards mobility and safety—both being highly gendered. We finalized this research by critically drawing from the results of the empirical work and proposing recommendations on how to respond to sexual harassment and sexual assault in transit environments.

So what can be learnt from the experience of doing research over emails and communication platforms?

We live in a world where we can communicate with someone across the oceans with a single click! This opens a door to a new world of possibilities, whether it be contacting a family member, friend, or doing research with colleagues.  It was a long and bumpy journey, but a worthwhile one. Our experience shows that it is possible to carry out a Global study like this one.  If you want to try to do something similar in the future, make sure you have three things before you start:

  1. Clear aim and objectives and some pretty good ideas how to achieve them
  2. A computer, internet and some ‘basic internet knowledge’
  3. (Most importantly) A great motivated group of researchers you can rely on to ensure that things are done on time, ethically, and with good care for the research process and quality of data. You might want to share the research coordination with someone senior, more experienced researcher in the area.

A book summarizes this joint efforts (Transit Crime and Sexual Violence in Cities: International Evidence and Prevention) and is coming out soon from Routledge. Country reports might be available on requestA special issue of International Journal of Comparative and Applied Criminal Justice will be available in March 2020. On behalf of my colleague Prof Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris at UCLA, USA, I would like to thank everybody that took part in this project, and in particular, a friend from the UK who directly contributed to the original survey applied in Stockholm in 2016. Thanks!

 

Contact

Vania Ceccato, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden

Email: vania.ceccato@abe.kth.se

 

Images: courtesy of the author

 

Unfinished Business: Moving beyond the Australian National Apology (2008) towards Indigenous justice

In 2008, a National Apology was offered on behalf of the Australian Government to the Indigenous people of Australia, particularly for the Stolen Generations. Although the apology was constructed under the guise of reconciliation, it represented a shift in political discourse with regards to strategies of governance. Over a decade later there is much unfinished business which needs to be addressed in the move towards Indigenous justice and a united Australia.

Sharon Hartles photoSharon Hartles is a MA Postgraduate Crime and Justice student with the Open University.  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.

 

On the 13th February 2008, the seventy-third day of his Prime Ministership and his first act of office, the then Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd (on behalf of the government) moved a motion of Apology to the Indigenous Australians in which he stated: “For the pain, suffering and hurt of the stolen generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we are sorry”. Dominant mediated discourse formulated The National Apology in order to offer the spirit of healing, to enable a future in which a new page in its history could be re-written: a future in which Indigenous and non-Indigenous people are reconciled and united as one Australian nation. For this reason, the 13th February 2008 was deemed to be a monumental day in Australia’s history. Selected Indigenous voices celebrated the occasion declaring how the apology had changed the history books for Aboriginal people.  On the tenth year anniversary of the National Apology, Australian Government sponsored propaganda commemorated what it had achieved so far in its  journey towards reconciling the nation. However, a removal of the rose tinted glasses reveals an alternative version of the ‘truth’.

The National Apology went firmly against the stance held by Kevin Rudd’s predecessor John Howard during his time as Prime Minister, March 1996 – December 2007, who refused to say the word sorry on the basis that Australians of today are not responsible for the actions of an earlier generation and he “did not subscribe to the black armband view of history”. Moreover, archived and seemly forgotten was the Northern Territory National Emergency Response Bill 2007 (NERB). Extreme authoritarian and totalitarian proposed interventions deemed a justified response to tackle the Aboriginal Problem. Programmes incorporated the following: a five year takeover of sixty Indigenous communities; soldiers and police were to oversee and enforce alcohol and pornography bans; quarantining of welfare payments for the purpose of ensuring money would be spent on necessities, and furthermore the compulsory testing of Indigenous children for signs of sexual abuse.  The NERB was the emergency response to address the serious problems highlighted in the Little Children are Sacred, 2007 report.  Apparently, the protection of children from ubiquitous social harm and abuse is of paramount concern to all Australians…  All Australians except those Indigenous communities who resided in the Northern Territory!  Incredulously, less than six months prior to the National Apology the NERB reflected populist and dominant state rhetoric which was clearly entrenched in colonial, imperialistic and white supremacist ethnocentrism.  With little irony, all of this was swept under the carpet with the election of a new Australian Prime Minister and government. Furthermore a disclaimer denounced this discourse to be that which was authorised by ‘previous’ Ministers, Parliamentary Secretaries and departments. In this way previous hegemonic ideology was excused.

With this in mind, a critical viewpoint may suggest that the offered National Apology was constructed in part to appease the widespread backlash and public outrage incited by the proposed NERB. Moreover, the National Apology constructed under the guise of reconciliation merely represents a shift in political discourse. Instead of favouring a crime-control approach taking the form of the NERB, the Australian Government shifted its approach to governing the Indigenous population through a social welfare approach, concealed under the veil of reconciliation.

Kevin Rudd, in his role of Prime Minister and on behalf of the new government offered an apology to the Indigenous people in atonement for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country. Nevertheless, lessons have not been learnt and the practice of removing Indigenous children from their families persists. 17,664 Indigenous children were in out-of-home care in 2016-17, compared with 9,070 in 2007-08. Therefore this equates to a staggering 80% removal rate increase between 2007-08 to 2016-17, from 32.7 per 1,000 to 58.7 per 1,000. Furthermore, in contrast to the ten year anniversary propaganda promoted by the Australian Government, a reconciliation progress report published by the Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation (ANTaR) (2010) offered an alternative truth. The ANTaR report noted the government failings to advance on the pledges in its reconciliation blueprint; making six recommendations to address this and ‘close the gaps‘. Eight year later (2018) ANTaR’s review highlights the governments continued drift away from the commitments it made in the original proposal.

And what of the constructed offered apology?  It was a very small step in the right direction, insofar as it partially acknowledged the brutal destruction of Aboriginal society which non-Indigenous populations has systematically and progressively erased from collective memory, referred to as the Great Australian Silence. However, can a partial half-truth or a historical revision of past events really unite the Australian nation? The constructed National Apology was flawless in its meticulous choice of discourse, and exemplified strategies of state-denial and state omission. ‘Mistreatments, mistakes, injustices, wrong-doings of the past’ NOT forced abduction which was sanctioned by colonial and post-colonial laws, underpinned by assumptions of superiority of the migrants (and their descendants).  All done in a bid to Westernise and civilise the Aborigines while eradicating their culture.  No mention at all of other state-sanctioned ‘crimes’ such as murders, land grabbing or cultural genocide or annihilation. In fact John Howard did not accept “that genocide had been practised against the Indigenous people”. ​

If the Australian Government truly wishes to strive towards Indigenous justice and bring together all Australian people and atone for its past, surely this must begin by being honest and acknowledging its state-sanctioned ‘crimes’ which have resulted in intergenerational trauma. While the Aboriginal people patiently wait, and show remarkable dignity and fortitude they continue to suffer a multitude of harms ranging from: physical, financial, economic, denial of cultural safety, emotional and psychological abuse, which have been (and are still being) inflicted upon them by the Australian Government’s constructed apologetic half-truths about past (and present) events.

Originally posted on:  sharonhartles.weebly.com

 

Contact

Sharon Hartles, MA Postgraduate Crime and Justice student with the Open University

Email: sh28739@ou.ac.uk

Twitter: @shartles1

Images: courtesy of Flickr