SNC, Canadian mining companies, and Foreign Policy
In 2015 the RCMP charged SNC Lavalin, the Montreal-based multinational corporation, with bribery and corruption when they found that SNC had offered bribes of over $47 million to Libyan officials between 2001 and 2011.
Last week the office of the ethics commissioner stated that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was in breach of the code of ethics after Trudeau pressured Jody Wilson-Raybould, then the Minister of Justice and Attorney General, to stop the prosecution of SNC and instead offer it a deal that will allow it to remain elegible to bid on large government contracts. Raybould-Wilson baulked and the story exploded in the media. The Prime Minister countered the breach of ethics charge saying that he will not apologize for standing up for Canadian jobs.
The issue then became Trudeau’s lack of an apology versus the need to protect Canadian jobs. That was indeed “an issue” that arose from this development, but a closer look at SNC’s long relationship with the Canadian Federal government long before Trudeau became PM reveals much larger issues concerning Canadian foreign dating back decades.
According to Montreal researcher and writer Yves Engler, SNC operates in about 160 countries and “has long been the corporate face of this country’s foreign policy. In fact, it is not much of an exaggeration to describe some Canadian diplomatic posts as PR arms for the Montréal-based firm. What’s good for SNC has been defined as good for Canada.”
SNC officials have traveled regularly with Canadian government ministers on official foreign missions, received billions of dollars in Government contracts even after being charged with bribery and corruption in 15 countries. SNC even received a series of Canadian government contracts in Haiti after Canada was instrumental in the overthrow of Jean-Bertrand Aristede, Haiti’s elected president. One of the corporation’s subsidiaries was named in the Panama Papers for bribing a Virgin Islands-based company to acquire contracts in Algeria.
Even so SNC has remained tied closely to the Federal Government, whether Liberal or Conservative, making regular political contributions to both parties; while many of their former officials receive highly paid appointments, some even receiving Order of Canada medals.
Everywhere SNC and Canadian mining companies go, our government takes a stand against any government that wants to nationalize its resources to the benefit of their own people. Engler stated that there are about 600 Canadian mining companies operating abroad, many in Latin America, and whenever any of those governments seek to control their own resources, the leaders, democratically elected or otherwise, suddenly find themselves targets either for vilification or for removal from power. Bolivia’s president Evo Morales has been one of those targets, while a more recent Canadian Government effort is the open attempt at overthrowing the Venezuelan government. Significantly, many Canadian mining companies operate in Venezuela, a country that has nationalized its resources in the service of its people.
Engler adds: “SNC has benefited from Ottawa’s international push for neoliberal reforms and Canada’s power within the World Bank. A strong proponent of neoliberalism, the Montréal firm has worked on and promoted privatizing water services in a number of countries. Alongside Global Affairs Canada, SNC promotes the idea that the public cannot build, operate or manage services and that the way forward is through Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs), which often go beyond a standard design-and-build-construction contract to include private sector participation in service operation, financing and decision making.” We can see why neither the late Venezuelan President Chavez nor current President Nicolas Maduro would go for this and, therefore, according to the Canadian government, they must go.
All this information is easily available and verifiable, yet none of this is ever discussed in the corporate media, which prefers to frame the SNC fiasco as a matter of ethics or political necessity purely within Canada. Ethics do not matter in the way Canada and Canadian companies do business in poorer more vulnerable countries. That, it would appear is “just business” regardless of how the people of those countries are affected.