RCMP says it 'wrongly denied' release of records on SNC-Lavalin investigation

On Monday, the RCMP claimed they investigated the allegations, but later dropped their pursuit of criminal charges in January due to 'insufficient evidence.'

RCMP says it 'wrongly denied' release of records on SNC-Lavalin investigation
Kevin Brine - stock.adobe.com and The Canadian Press / Adrian Wyld
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After the RCMP fumbled on whether they investigated top Liberal officials over the SNC-Lavalin scandal, the federal police force admitted wrongdoing Wednesday in not disclosing their records.

On Monday, Democracy Watch co-founder Duff Conacher disclosed to the public a letter from the RCMP denying an access-to-information request on the scandal. They rejected the disclosure over claims of an ongoing police investigation.

"In a May 2023 Access to Information (ATI) release, the RCMP informed a requester that records they were seeking were exempt from release as the matter was under investigation," wrote RCMP spokesperson Marie-Eve Breton in an email to National Post.

"This information was incorrect and based on the information available to the ATIP Branch at that time."

This marks the second public statement by the RCMP on the allegations since August 14, 2019, when it supposedly inquired about the scandal.

The allegations stem from bribery and fraud charges against SNC-Lavalin in 2015 over giving millions to the son of former Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi for helping the company secure lucrative construction projects.

SNC-Lavalin Construction paid $127 million to two shell companies between 2001 and 2011, according to an agreed statement of facts. About $47 million of that money went to Saadi Gadhafi.

On September 10, 2019, the Globe and Mail reported that Ian Shugart, then-Clerk of the Privy Council, had refused to waive Cabinet confidence to allow government witnesses to provide complete information to the RCMP.

Then Justice Department spokesman Ian McLeod said not offering a broader waiver for the RCMP "was made solely by the Clerk of the Privy Council as guardian of cabinet confidences." 

Trudeau's then director of communications, Cameron Ahmad, said the Justice Department did not involve the PMO in the decision.

After Conacher went public Monday with the information of an ongoing RCMP investigation, the police force went radio silent and ignored further media requests.

Then later that night, they issued a correction, claiming they investigated the allegations, but later dropped their pursuit of criminal charges in January due to insufficient evidence.

RCMP spokesperson Marie-Eve Breton told the National Post they made an error in issuing the original statement. She pledged another review of the records, with a new release package to Conacher within 90 days.

"Given the investigation ended in January and that the only reason the RCMP gave for keeping the documents secret was that the allegations were still being investigated, it is completely unjustifiable to delay the disclosure of the documents for another three months," replied Conacher.

The May 25 letter initially disclosed discussed obstruction of justice allegations against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, former Finance Minister Bill Morneau, some members of their staff, and former Clerk of the Privy Council Michael Wernick after then Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould refused to avoid prosecution of SNC-Lavalin.

According to anonymous sources within the RCMP, the force put their examination of the affair on hold during the 2019 federal election campaign. On September 11, 2019, Wilson-Raybould acknowledged that the RCMP interviewed her about the prime minister's and other's actions, as the Globe reported.

"Of course, I am concerned about the government's decision to deny [the RCMP's] request for access to other witnesses. As a matter of principle, the RCMP should be able to conduct thorough and necessary investigations," she said.

"I believe the public deserves to know and to have full knowledge of this matter."

Wilson-Raybould received a demotion from Cabinet and later an eviction from caucus for her efforts.

Then Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion revealed nine witnesses could not provide full testimony for his report, owing to the limited waiver on cabinet secrecy.

Dion ultimately found that Trudeau and some top officials breached the Conflict of Interest Act by improperly pressuring Wilson-Raybould on bribery and fraud charges against SNC-Lavalin.

In December 2019, the company received a $280 million fine and three years of probation after being convicted of fraud. 

"More than four years have passed since the situation [became] public and almost four years since the Ethics Commissioner's ruling finding that Prime Minister Trudeau violated the federal ethics law pressuring the Attorney General," said Conacher.

"It is difficult to believe the investigation has not been completed, and it raises many questions for the RCMP to answer," he added.

Democracy Watch has since inquired to the RCMP about negotiations with the PMO to disclose Cabinet confidences, timelines for the investigation, and whether they would issue a full public disclosure upon its conclusion. 

The organization sent a letter to the RCMP in February 2021 outlining its questions. However, the RCMP did not respond.

On June 1, 2022, Democracy Watch sent a second letter to the RCMP, again setting out the grounds for prosecuting and calling for a full, public update and requesting disclosure of records under the Access to Information Act (ATIA). 

They filed the ATIA request after the RCMP disclosed documents in the spring of 2022 under the ATIA explaining its decisions concerning the investigation into the Trudeau family's trip to Aga Khan's island while prime minister.

"Are the RCMP and prosecutors waiting for a third federal election to pass?" posed Conacher. "What often happens in Canada when powerful politicians and government officials are involved in alleged illegal activities [are considerable] delays with the hope they can eventually bury the investigation results."

On May 25, Democracy Watch received a 96-page document with the letter from the RCMP as part of an access-to-information request they filed last July 27. They received 86 pages redacted because "this matter is currently under investigation." 

Only a 5-page February 2021 letter to the RCMP is unredacted. Four pages are fully unredacted because they are "not relevant," and one page because it is "redundant."

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