Before I go into this in any depth, I want to be absolutely clear here: I do not believe that the Liberal government has handled this situation well at all, nor am I here to defend the actions of any singular party. This post is mostly an attempt to tease apart the various threads of the matter so that I can make sense of it all.
SNC-Lavalin Libya HistoryThe current scandal is largely related to bribery activities that SNC-Lavalin is accused of carrying out in Libya in the early 2000s, although it is far from the first time that SNC-Lavalin has been accused of criminal wrongdoing. Further, SNC-Lavalin's participation in large government contracts has often taken on a rotten air. So, in many respects, SNC-Lavalin is seen by the public in the same light we might view any other serial offender - not exactly the most sympathetic of figures on the public stage.
We would be remiss if we didn't review a few facts about the size and scope of SNC-Lavalin's operations. This is a multinational corporation with operations around the world employing a claimed 52,000 employees. It does business in places that many of us would be at a loss to even begin navigating the environment. Not all countries use the same rules of commerce that govern how Canada, the US, UK, Australia and Europe do. Often times, practices that are in fact criminal offences here are "normal business" elsewhere.
I remember when a former employer I worked with was first branching out into international work, and had the rather rude surprise of having to "navigate" the very real differences in how other cultures and nations conduct business. There were definitely times that the company made decisions which were to North American eyes suspect. To some extent, it bears considering this point when thinking about SNC-Lavalin's conduct. I may not like the conduct of the company in Libya, but there are likely cultural and political factors in play that SNC-Lavalin would have to consider if it were to conduct business in that country.
The idea of bribing public officials is intrinsically distasteful to most anglophone Canadians because we are brought up in a culture which perceives bribery as corrupt. That doesn't mean however, that "our shit doesn't stink". In Alberta, we have politicians like Jason Kenney meeting with car dealers and seemingly receiving large donations to an affiliated PAC in exchange for promises - hardly a shining example of honest dealing on either party's part.
The legal mess around the Libya affair appears to have first blown up around 2011/2012, and has been fermenting ever since with criminal charges laid against the company in 2015. Here we are four years later in 2019 and the legal case continues, having yet to make its way before the courts in any significant sense. Given the consequences of being found criminally liable to the company, it comes as little surprise that the organization has pulled out "all the stops" to fight the criminal proceedings. As others have pointed out, criminal convictions against corporations end up creating punishments for people who are miles away from being directly involved in the crimes the company is accused of.
Should SNC-Lavalin face criminal proceedings? That's a different question when we are talking about a corporation than if we are talking about individual citizens. I'll come back to this question in my closing notes.