More than half of Canadians say charges against SNC-Lavalin should go to criminal trial

Michelle Zilio

More than half of Canadians say fraud and corruption charges against SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. should go to a criminal trial rather than a negotiated settlement where the Montreal engineering and construction giant would pay fines and avoid prosecution, according to a new survey.

The numbers, provided exclusively to The Globe and Mail and CTV News, are based on a Nanos poll of 750 Canadians from Feb. 28 to March 1. The poll comes after testimony from former justice minister and attorney-general Jody Wilson-Raybould to a parliamentary justice committee on Feb. 27, when she alleged “consistent and sustained” political pressure from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other senior officials to shelve the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin.

Before the committee, Ms. Wilson-Raybould alleged inappropriate conduct on the part of Mr. Trudeau and 11 people in the Prime Minister’s Office, the Privy Council Office and the Office of the Minister of Finance. This included Mr. Trudeau’s chief of staff, Katie Telford, and former principal secretary Gerald Butts, as well as Privy Council Clerk Michael Wernick, Finance Minister Bill Morneau and his chief of staff, Ben Chin. The committee will hear this week from Mr. Butts, who resigned shortly after Ms. Wilson-Raybould quit cabinet on Feb. 12, and hear again from Mr. Wernick.

SNC-Lavalin, Jody Wilson-Raybould and Trudeau’s PMO: The story so far

SNC-Lavalin, which is facing criminal charges over allegations of bribery in Libya between 2001 and 2011, has been seeking a negotiated settlement in which a company admits wrongdoing and pays a fine, but avoids a trial. Last September, however, the federal director of public prosecutions, Kathleen Roussel, informed the company that the prosecution would continue.

Ms. Wilson-Raybould could have publicly directed Ms. Roussel to settle the charges against SNC and allow a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA). She chose not to and was later shuffled out of the justice portfolio to veterans affairs, a move largely seen as a demotion. The final decision in the SNC-Lavalin case rested with her as attorney-general.

Mr. Trudeau said he disagrees with Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s characterization of discussions she had with him and others about the case. The Liberal government has insisted she was not directed to change her mind, and has frequently invoked the Shawcross Doctrine, a legal principle, to defend its right to discuss with an attorney-general the economic consequences of allowing a company to be prosecuted and convicted.

In the Nanos poll, 55 per cent of Canadians nationally think SNC-Lavalin should face a criminal trial, while 35 per cent said they prefer remediation and 10 per cent said they were unsure. Respondents were asked the same questions from Feb. 23 to 26, before Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s testimony to the committee, and reported similar results: 53 per cent in support of a criminal trial, 35 per cent for remediation and 12 per cent unsure.

poll: Charges against SNC-Lavalin

Question: Some people think that the charges should go to criminal trial because of the seriousness of the fraud and corruption charges, others say that a negotiated deferral of the charges where SNC-Lavalin would pay fines and other restitution would be more appropriate. Which of these two options, if either, best reflects your personal view?

The charges should go to criminal trial because of the

seriousness of the fraud and corruption charges

A negotiated deferral of the charges where SNC-Lavalin would

pay fines and other restitution would be more appropriate


Wave 2: Feb. 28 to March 1




Wave 1: Feb. 23 to Feb. 26




Note: Charts may not add up to 100 due to rounding

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: nanos research

The poll showed the lowest regional support for a criminal trial in Quebec, where SNC-Lavalin employs thousands of people. Only 41 per cent of respondents in Quebec said they support a trial, while 48 per cent prefer a negotiated remediation agreement and 11 per cent were unsure.

“The key narrative is that the public prosecutor felt that criminal charges should proceed and I think that for average Canadians who are not legal experts, they accept that at face value,” Mr. Nanos said.

The poll also tracked Canadians’ confidence in the federal leaders before and after Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s testimony. From Feb. 23 to 26 (before the testimony), 23 per cent of Canadians said Green Party Leader Elizabeth May was the most ethical leader, followed by Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer at 21 per cent, Mr. Trudeau at 17 per cent and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh at 6 per cent.

Respondents were asked the same question from Feb. 28 to March 1, after Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s testimony. The poll saw an increase in confidence in Ms. May, with 29 per cent of respondents saying she is the most ethical leader, followed by Mr. Scheer at 21 per cent, Mr. Trudeau at 12 per cent – a five-percentage-point decrease from the time frame before Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s testimony – and Mr. Singh at 7 per cent.

“What this means is that people are disappointed with the mainline parties and the way politics is traditionally done. And Elizabeth May is kind of a safe haven for Canadians as a choice on the ethics front,” Mr. Nanos said. “The Conservatives should not think that they have any kind of ethics advantage.”

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Mr. Scheer, who has called for Mr. Trudeau’s resignation over his handling of the SNC-Lavalin affair, has faced repeated questions over how his party would have handled the case. Speaking to CTV’s Question Period Sunday, he said the Tories would consider making the attorney-general job separate from the justice minister’s role in cabinet, as suggested by Ms. Wilson-Raybould last week before the committee.

Ms. Wilson-Raybould spoke out Saturday, revealing to the Vancouver Sun her intentions to remain in the Liberal caucus and run for re-election under the party banner this fall, amid the tensions over her handling of the SNC-Lavalin case.

In a letter to the Prime Minister Sunday, NDP ethics critic Charlie Angus urged Mr. Trudeau to ask for Mr. Wernick’s resignation over his role as a “central player in a very political controversy.” Meanwhile, Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion has also launched an inquiry in the matter.

The Nanos poll was conducted by phone and online random survey over two time frames. The first wave, from Feb. 23 to 26, surveyed 1,000 Canadians and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. The second wave of polling surveyed 750 people and drew from the same 1,000 respondents who participated in the first wave; the second wave has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.9 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

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