“The Businessperson’s Creed is: Profit, Product, People and Principle in that order. The professional
must exactly reverse the order of importance of these four criteria to read:
Principle, People, Product and lastly, Profit.”
– G. K. Allred (1991), Business or Profession – Which Comes First
When you think about professional ethics, you have to admit that SNC-Lavalin, the giant engineering and construction firm, is stretching credibility to the limit.
SNC is the largest engineering and project construction company in Canada with 50,000 employees worldwide. Their actions over the past few decades have shown themselves strictly as a business and not a professional engineering practice.
First came the allegations about the $48-million bribing of public officials in Libya from 2002 to 2012, and then the World Bank banned SNC in 2013 from contracts based on bribery in Bangladesh, Cambodia and India, and recently the former president and CEO recently pleaded guilty to bribery charges in the awarding of the $1.3-billion contract for the construction of the McGill University Health Centre project.
They were also required to enter into a compliance agreement with Elections Canada where they admitted to making tens of thousands of dollars in illegal campaign donations, most of which went to the Liberal Party of Canada. And even more recently there is talk of an RCMP criminal probe concerning Montreal’s Jacques Cartier Bridge.
Faced with criminal court proceedings against the company for corruption in Libya, it appears that SNC has lobbied the Director of Public Prosecutions, former attorney general Judy Wilson-Raybould and even the Prime Minister’s Office to defer those criminal charges in favour of a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA).
A DPA would allow SNC-Lavalin to plead guilty to the criminal charges, requiring them to admit their guilt, pay back the money, pay fines and promise to never repeat their corruptive acts. Otherwise, if convicted, they could face jail time and a criminal record as well as hefty fines. It has become apparent that the attorney general has denied their request despite alleged pressure from the Prime Minister’s Office.
But here is where it gets interesting. Charges were laid in Canada with regard to the Libyan scandal in 2015. Since then SNC has carried out a widespread and intensive lobbying campaign involving the governments of Canada, Ontario and Quebec to bring in legislation to permit those deferred prosecution agreements in Canada.
These agreements are apparently common in the United States and Britain, specifically for criminal activity regarding economic offences such as bribery and fraud. That lobbying appears to have brought results, as amendments to the Criminal Code came into force in September of last year, establishing a deferred prosecution regime for corporate wrongdoing in Canada.
SNC-Lavalin has a history of buying influence in Quebec and around the world, and obviously in influencing the Trudeau government to pass legislation which could potentially relieve them of criminal prosecution and avoid a ban from bidding on Canadian infrastructure projects.
The CEO of SNC-Lavalin claims that their corporate culture has changed and that all offending employees are no longer with the company. From their most recent actions, that does not appear to be the case.
If this is just a cost of doing business for SNC-Lavalin, it appears like it might just become the cost of losing its business once and for all. Their desire for profit has replaced the principle of acting in the public interest.
Ken Allred is a former St. Albert Alderman and MLA.