One can’t help but be bemused about the subplot in this ‘Only In Canada you say’ teapot melodrama. SNC-Lavalin, a Quebec-based (where else could it possibly be?) engineering firm and two of its subsidiaries are to be prosecuted in Canadian courts for allegedly out-muscling other international companies (British, French, Russia and U.S.) in bribing Libyan government officials to influence decisions on construction projects over a 10-year period starting in 2001 – 18 years ago.
They probably would have escaped getting into trouble internally except that, in December 2011, one of SNC-Lavalin’s employees took exception to a couple of senior executives in the company’s construction branch who were not only paying bribes but stealing back a few hundreds of millions of dollars from the Gadhafi regime. That led to internal audits and police involvement in Switzerland and Canada (RCMP) – resulting in links between the Libyan rip-off and McGill University hospital construction bribes. The latter was a strategic mistake. Getting caught with domestic contract fiddling causes us great puritanical angst.
It is different offshore, of course. Anyone who knows anything about international construction projects is well aware that bribing government and private contract officials is part of the way of doing business – particularly in Asia and Africa. Just ask China. At the same time, getting caught is bad for business since it can lead to loss of access to UN-funded projects for a 10-year period. That is why the U.K. and U.S. in particular, being God-fearing upright nations, have created something called Deferred Prosecution Agreements where companies tripped up with fingers in the penny-pot pay a fine to the home government in lieu of going to court and being found guilty. Canada, being somewhat slow to catch on, didn’t bring in such legislation until 2018.
But back to Libya, SNC made another serious business tactical error. In early 2011, Libya became embroiled in the Arab spring revolutions. Civil war broke out and civilians got shot. Western nations were shocked and the UN Security Council reacted by passing Resolution 1970, freezing Gadhafi’s assets and referring the matter to the International Criminal Court. Unhappily for SNC, a couple of their executives got caught up in a plot to smuggle Gadhafi’s son, Saadi, from North Africa to Mexico. Canada responded in a more even-handed fashion by blowing up Libya using offshore missiles – not discriminating between who got killed on either side.
And so the political comedy continues. Our Prime Minister has found another group of people to apologize to – women in leadership roles in politics. The official Opposition is offering an excellent example to Canadian children on how to get attention by having temper tantrums in public. Quebecers are about to react to persistent public embarrassment of their construction industry by voting for Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party in the fall.
Alan Murdock is a local pediatrician.