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Inside SNC-Lavalin’s long lobbying campaign to change the sentencing rules

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Justin Trudeau’s government was just four months old when SNC-Lavalin came knocking on the door, looking for help.

The stakes for the global construction and engineering firm were enormous. In 2015, federal prosecutors charged SNC-Lavalin with offering Libyan government officials $48 million in bribes and defrauding Libyan organizations of another $130 million.

If convicted, the company would be slapped with a 10-year ban on receiving federal government contracts. SNC-Lavalin saw its very existence at stake.

So the company launched a multi-year lobbying effort to convince the Trudeau government to change the Criminal Code. Its goal was to see the Trudeau government introduce deferred prosecution agreements — DPAs, for short — which typically are sentencing agreements between prosecutors and corporations charged with white collar crimes.

For SNC-Lavalin, the DPA option would offer a lifeline — allowing the company to pay fines and restitution while escaping criminal prosecution and the threat of that 10-year ban.

SNC-Lavalin’s lobbying and the introduction of DPAs blew up into a major controversy this week when Jody Wilson-Raybould, the former justice minister, announced she was quitting the Liberal cabinet — just days after a Globe and Mail report claimed she was pressured by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) to help the Quebec-based multinational engineering firm avoid criminal prosecution on bribery and fraud charges in relation to contracts in Libya.

The company’s lobbying push started on Feb. 2, 2016, when company officials met with Francois-Philippe Champagne. The Quebec MP, now the infrastructure minister, was at the time the parliamentary secretary to Finance Minister Bill Morneau.

It’s the first meeting listed in the federal lobbyist registry which saw SNC-Lavalin press the Trudeau government on justice and law enforcement.

As the month rolled along, SNC-Lavalin lobbied its way up the Ottawa power chain. On Feb. 11, 2016, the company had its first discussion on justice and law enforcement with a member of the Prime Minister’s Office — an event that would be repeated at least 18 times over the next few years.

That initial meeting was with Cyrus Reporter, who at the time was listed as Trudeau’s senior adviser. Days later, SNC-Lavalin met with Robert Asselin, Morneau’s senior policy adviser at the Department of Finance.

Another meeting followed with the PMO — this time with Mathieu Bouchard, Trudeau’s adviser on Quebec issues. Bouchard has been SNC-Lavalin’s main point of contact in the PMO ever since.

A very broad lobbying effort

Before the month was over, SNC-Lavalin also had met with top officials at Global Affairs Canada and Innovation, Science and Economic Development, including Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains himself.

The company’s initial lobbying efforts were focused entirely on the PMO and top economic ministries, even though the lobbyist registry says the meetings were to discuss justice and law enforcement.

By the time 2016 was over, SNC-Lavalin had expanded its lobbying efforts to include the Privy Council Office, Export Development Canada, Public Services and Procurement Canada and Public Safety.

In 2017, its lobbying effort widened to include Treasury Board, Natural Resources and Environment.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks with Minister of Justice Jody Wilson-Raybould during a swearing-in ceremony at Rideau Hall, Wednesday Nov. 4, 2015 in Ottawa. (CP/Adrian Wyld)

SNC-Lavalin even met with a policy adviser in the Department of Heritage. The minister at the time, Mélanie Joly, is a Quebec MP.

Twenty months and 51 meetings after SNC Lavalin’s initial meeting with Champagne, the company’s efforts appeared to be paying off.

The government launched consultations to discuss a DPA regime in Canada. The consultations even had their own customized hashtag: #LetsTalkCorporateWrongdoing.

In February 2018, Morneau would deliver the budget item that SNC Lavalin wanted. The budget implementation bill contained changes to the Criminal Code that would bring DPAs to Canada.

Lobbying the opposition

It was a justice reform provision baked into a 500-page omnibus budget bill. The measures were discussed at the House finance committee without ever appearing on the justice committee’s agenda.

In May 2018, Conservative finance critic Pierre Polievre asked Morneau why his budget bill included “a provision that would allow accused white collar criminals charged with bribery, fraud, insider trading and other offences to have all charges dropped.”

“We believe that our approach to deferred prosecution agreements will enable us to pursue an approach that is functioning and doing well in other economies,” Morneau replied. “One that will result in more effective continuation of business success by companies once they have paid their dues to society.”

Around this time, SNC Lavalin broadened its lobbying efforts again. The budget bill was tabled but it still needed to pass through the House and the Senate.

So the company secured meetings with officials in Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s office, with NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and top senators — including Peter Harder, the government’s representative in the Senate. Once again, the topic listed in the lobbyist registry was ‘justice and law enforcement’.

The budget bill passed through Parliament and was given royal assent on June 21, 2018, making DPAs a viable legal option in Canada. Step one in SNC Lavalin’s efforts to save itself had been successful.

Step two would be to secure a DPA for itself. That would prove to be more difficult.

Wilson-Raybould gets involved

A few weeks after the budget passed, SNC-Lavalin had another meeting with PMO — this time with Bouchard and Elder Marques, who was a senior adviser in Trudeau’s office at the time. Prior to that he had been Bains’ chief of staff in Innovation and had been one of the first officials to meet with SNC-Lavalin when the lobbying effort began in 2016.

The next important date in this story comes not from the lobbyist registry but from the PMO itself. On Sept. 17, 2018, MPs were returning to Ottawa for the re-opening of Parliament — and Trudeau had a meeting scheduled with his justice minister, Wilson-Raybould.

In its 80 recorded meetings to lobby on justice issues, SNC-Lavalin never once spoke to Wilson-Raybould or anyone from the Department of Justice.

But given that the budget omnibus bill had gone through a full cabinet process, Wilson-Raybould would have been acutely aware of the push for DPAs — and SNC Lavalin’s desire for one. After lobbying Ottawa to change the law, the company was now asking prosecutors to cut it a deal.

Trudeau has said more than once in recent days that he reassured Wilson-Raybould at that September meeting.

“I told her directly that any decisions on matters involving the director of public prosecutions were hers alone,” Trudeau said this week in Vancouver.

The day after the PM and Wilson-Raybould spoke, SNC-Lavalin was back lobbying the government — this time meeting with Clerk of the Privy Council Michael Wernick and Finance Minister Bill Morneau to, once again, discuss justice issues.

Things fall apart

None of the firm’s efforts seem to have paid off. In October, prosecutors told SNC-Lavalin it would not get a DPA. The criminal charges were going to court. SNC Lavalin’s lifeline was fraying. Events started to move fast.

The company made the news public in an October 10 statement. On Oct. 11, SNC-Lavalin met with Elder Marques, the PMO senior adviser.  A week later, the company announced that it would challenge the prosecutor’s decision.

The Globe and Mail reports that this is the period when Wilson-Raybould allegedly was pressured by unnamed officials in the PMO to intervene in the prosecution. Trudeau denies the allegations. Wilson-Raybould has refused to address them publicly, citing solicitor-client privilege.

In December, SNC-Lavalin issued a statement saying its Quebec operations were under threat as a result of “ongoing legal challenges.”

In January of this year, Wilson-Raybould was shuffled out of the justice portfolio. This week, she quit cabinet entirely. Her resignation letter did not offer a specific explanation.

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Clark: Preserve Ottawa’s Kilmorie house as a heritage and cultural hub

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On Thursday, Nov. 14 at 9:30 a.m., the City of Ottawa’s planning committee votes on an application to approve a subdivision for a unique property at 21 Withrow Ave.

Kilmorie, a unique historic property, is situated in the middle of the city, a block off busy Merivale Road. This piece of land is the last remaining evidence of the early settlement of Nepean. It is a landmark for the City View and Nepean community dating back to the 1840s. It is one of the area’s most cherished heritage properties.

Kilmorie house is the second-oldest stone house in Ottawa. The property still contains more than 100 mature trees in a variety of species. To enter this property is a touch of magic in a whirlwind of traffic just a block away.

In 1915, the house was bought by William Wilfred Campbell. Campbell was known as one of Canada’s renowned Confederation Poets. Some famous poems of Campbell’s that were studied in our school days and continue to be enjoyed today are: “Down the Merivale Road,” “Indian Summer” and “The Woods at Kilmorie.” “The Mother,” acclaimed internationally, was read out loud in Parliament. Campbell himself, related to the Royal Family, wrote poetry in these gardens, entertained future prime ministers and coached the young militia preparing to serve in the First World War. He was a fervent Canadian patriot and a renowned artist.

Kilmorie house is the second-oldest stone house in Ottawa. The property still contains more than 100 mature trees in a variety of species.

The City View Community Association and the Kilmorie Heritage Society have been working to save this property as a community hub and an arts and cultural centre. Other educational undertakings could be held in the gardens of heritage flowers and where citizens are welcome to sit to enjoy the surrounding natural beauty.

What does the City of Ottawa think of this idea? It thinks that a subdivision of élite homes that would sell for close to $1 million each, located on a private road, would be better use of this land. And what will happen to the Kilmorie heritage house?  It would be tucked away on a private road, where only this small group of élite homeowners would see it. This house has been a focal point of this area for almost 200 years. Are we just going to let it be hidden forever?

Joan Clark is shown at the estate on Withrow Avenue in 2016. Wayne Cuddington / Postmedia

There are many people who support the preservation of this heritage site. Is the administration of the City of Ottawa acting in a short-sighted manner? Is City Hall more concerned about profit and the taxes to be gleaned from a few more high-priced houses? Has it lost its vision of the future for our young people, who are promoters of green spaces and ecological settings?

Our councillor is currently not active. Who will advocate for us? As citizens of Ottawa, we currently have no representation at City Hall. Councillors have been assigned to help us but do not have the background needed. Our councillor, MP and MPP are all supportive. Many people at City Hall are quietly supportive. We know that they see the merit in what we are trying to accomplish on behalf of our community and our city. Do we really need another subdivision with 14 detached dwellings shoehorned into a unique plot of land that has the potential to be a special setting which values our historic heritage?

Let’s keep Kilmorie in its whole and natural setting.

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Ottawa specialty bakery grows beyond owner’s dreams

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Much like baking, business can be a lot of trial and error before you get it right.

Six years and many sweets later, Jacqui Okum, owner of Strawberry Blonde Bakery, continues to tinker, even though the concept remains much the same.

More than a decade ago, the new vegan had been working in television in Toronto, however, she quickly ran into a problem: when it came to baked goods, she was left to make her own, as vegan-friendly options at that point were few and far between.

“I found myself making stuff at home because I still wanted to eat everything, but I couldn’t really find it,” Okum said in an interview with OttawaMatters.com.

Wanting to make a change from TV and with her new acumen for baking, Okum decided to enroll in a pastry program at George Brown College, one that included a focus on entrepreneurship.

Okum’s husband then got a job at the University of Ottawa, so she moved to the city and began to make offerings to the public, mostly through market stands like the ones at Lansdowne Park.

While her vegan offerings were popular, she began to get feedback about other products customers were looking for, including gluten-free and nut-free products.

The wheels slowly started turning.

After getting a job at Rainbow Natural Foods, Okum met her original business partner who was baking similar things, and the two decided to “go for it.”

At first, Rainbow allowed the two to bake out of its kitchen for a reasonable rate, but within six months the pair had already outgrown it, with orders surpassing space.

In 2013, the two opened their first shop on Grange Avenue in Hintonburg, which would include vegan-friendly, nut-free and gluten-free products to accommodate all dietary needs — something important to Okum.

“Being vegan myself, I knew what it was like to go somewhere and not have anything, or to have one option and it’s a sad looking option, or a piece of fruit,” Okum said.

“I’m still the person who wants the delicious cupcake or whatever it may be, so I really empathize with people who are celiac or maybe have a nut allergy. I took it really seriously.”

The challenge of making everything “just as good” as other offerings also drove Okum and she takes great pride when someone enjoys something from the bakery and doesn’t realize the limited ingredients.

“There’s nothing better. We get customers all the time where say they’re husband and wife and the wife comes in because she doesn’t want to eat gluten and the husband’s like ‘I don’t want it,’” she said. “And then he comes back and says, ‘My wife forced me to try this,’ but now he wants to come back because it’s so good. That’s the whole point of this business, is to make sure things look and taste similar to conventional bake goods.”

The passion and work to build up the offerings at the bakery has taken on a life of its own since the opening of the Grange Avenue location, which moved to Richmond Road as of two weeks ago, to include a coffee and sitting space. The business has now extended to the suburbs as well, with a Kanata location that opened this past June, with possible lunch offerings on the docket for 2020.

Okum said she couldn’t have dreamed that the venture would have been successful as it’s been so far almost seven years on.

“We have 40 employees, which is crazy to me and to think it was just me and business partner six years ago. It’s been a huge learning curve.”

When it comes to running a business, Okum offered to those looking to go down the same path to keep their minds open and to be flexible.

“What you think might happen isn’t what actually is going to happen but don’t be rigid,” she said, noting the original thought was that the bakery would mostly for wholesale use.

“Be kind to yourself, you’re going to make mistakes,” she said.

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How Ottawa’s Nordic Lab is creating new opportunities for Northern art

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For creators living in under-served Northern communities, geographic isolation and a lack of resources present a barrier to success. But the Nordic Lab — a new initiative at the SAW Gallery in downtown Ottawa — is hoping to empower these artists by offering them a mainstage platform to showcase their craft.

The newly expanded space in downtown Ottawa now hosts artists in residence, showcases Nordic art and provides educational programs geared toward Inuit youth — all the while promoting cultural exchanges between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities in Canada, Norway and other circumpolar nations.

The SAW Gallery’s curator, Jason St-Laurent, says the Nordic Lab is both a program and a set of physical spaces, though the public will have to wait until the spring of 2020 to view it. St-Laurent says the physical spaces will consist of “screen printing spaces and an artist residency space, which we’re naming after Annie Pootoogook,” the legendary Inuk artist who passed away in 2016.

“We’re all about being the social lubricant of the art world,” says St-Laurent. “We’re not your grandmother’s art institution.”

Tam-Ca Vo-Van stands in her bright, document-arrayed office during our interview. (Joshua Soucie)

Tam-Ca Vo-Van, the SAW Gallery’s director, says the Nordic Lab has been a long time in the making: “We have collaborated often with different Nordic embassies on special presentations. Things just came together, and our curator, Jason St-Laurent, thought of putting in place this Nordic Lab, which would bring together artists from Nordic countries and the North of Canada, and also from Ottawa, in a sort of triangular zone of collaboration.”

“We were involved, for about two years, in major renovations — an expansion of our space,” says Vo-Van, referring to the tripling of the gallery’s space to its current 15,000 square foot home in Arts Court. “We didn’t have our programming spaces for about two years, so we relaunched our facilities at the end of July, but the Nordic Lab wasn’t ready at that time, so we delayed the opening.”

The director describes the Nordic Lab as a research and production space that SAW is making available to its visiting artists. The program is also an educational space that the gallery hopes will invite artists-in-residence to get involved with the local community through initiatives such as community art projects or workshops.

The gallery’s curator and director allowed us to get a shot of the Nordic Lab’s contemporary artist-in-residence studio space while it is still under construction. (Joshua Soucie)

“At the moment, we’re working on a collaboration with an Inuit children’s centre as well as the City of Ottawa, more specifically the Community Arts and Social Engagement program, to put together workshops [for various age groups] that are coming up in November,” says Vo-Van. “With the Nordic Lab, we really wanted to involve the local Inuit community. The Nordic Lab initiative has an artistic mandate but also an educational one. We want to involve youth in artmaking. We really want to contribute to the well-being of the community in which we live, and we really believe the transfer of traditional knowledge is beneficial, especially for youth that are marginalized.”

For its Nordic Lab, the SAW Gallery will be installing semi-automated screen printing presses, which St-Laurent describes as “octopus presses” because their many arms make it simple to accomplish large-scale editions of projects, such as the simultaneous production of T-shirts, bags or prints: “Normally, when you’re hand-making it, it can take forever, but with this semi-automated press, you can do 500 no problem.”

“We’re launching a project called the SAW Art and Protest Initiative,” says St-Laurent, explaining that the project will help elevate the visual impact of political actions or protests by pairing organized social movements with artists to devise visual campaigns through merchandise that will be funded and produced by the SAW Gallery. “SAW, in its beginnings in ’73, was a bunch of activists, feminists and queers coming together to create something where people can see themselves reflected all across the gallery. We kind of wanted to go back to our activist roots, and normally, we can’t apply for funding for political anything, so now we’re using the profits from the bar to invest in our projects.”

SAW Gallery curator Jason St-Laurent. (Joshua Soucie)

The bar to which St-Laurent is referring is known as Club SAW, where gallery-goers are invited to grab a drink to sip on as they view the pieces laid out throughout the gallery. 

Despite the delay in the launch of the Nordic Lab’s physical spaces, the program is well underway. In the fall of 2018, they welcomed their first artist-in-residence, Sobey Art Award-shortlisted artist Joi T. Arcand. Club SAW therefore features a neon sign that was commissioned by the gallery over the course of Arcand’s residency. 

During her residency, Arcand took on a hybrid role with the gallery, becoming the Nordic Lab’s first program director. Arcand says she looks forward to seeing some of the international partnerships she has helped foster come to life as she moves on to her next residency at Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre.

Joi Arcand’s neon signs hang on the wall of Club SAW. (Joshua Soucie)

On November 7, SAW will be hosting an afterparty in collaboration with the National Gallery of Canada for the launch of the Àbadakone | Continuous Fire | Feu continuel exhibition, which will be showcasing the works of over 70 Indigenous artists from around the world. At their afterparty, the Nordic Lab’s second artist-in-residence, Norwegian Sámi artist Elle Márjá Eira, will be performing Joiks, which the artist describes as Europe’s oldest singing tradition.

“Joik is still a living art, and I always say that Joik is my heart language,” says Márjá Eira. “I will perform a Joik, a piece from the Norwegian feature film The 12th Man,directed by Harald Zwart. I composed that piece together with film music composer Christophe Beck. […] I hope that the audience is able to capture my feelings and stories, and that they somehow come into my world. My universe is completely different from yours.”

With its emphasis on community building and spotlight on Northern art, the Nordic Lab’s programming is sure to give its event participants chills.

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