A Conservative MP yesterday protested quick passage of a cabinet bill waiving jail time for white-collar criminals. The provision inserted in a 560-page omnibus budget bill passed into law without debate or committee scrutiny.
“I’m very disappointed that you can’t simply explain why this makes Canadians safer,” MP Dan Albas (Central Okanagan-Similkameen, B.C.) told the Commons finance committee. The amendment to the Criminal Code permits so-called “deferred prosecution agreements” that allow corporate executives to escape jail for bribery, money-laundering or other offences. A 2017 federal discussion paper acknowledged the practice is controversial.
Finance Minister Bill Morneau defended the bill. “We think it’s a prudent way to ensure we have companies pay the price for any wrongdoing in a way that allows us to ensure our economy continues to be successful,” said Morneau.
The Criminal Code amendment was inserted on the 531st page of Bill C-74 without comment by cabinet. It passed into law June 14. MP Albas noted the provision was never submitted to scrutiny by the Commons justice committee or Senate legal and constitutional affairs committee:
- MP Albas: “You’ve made it effectively where big corporations can get a get-out-of-jail card free for money laundering. Why do you think that makes Canadians safe?”
- Morneau: “Perhaps you can provide more detail on how you’ve come to this conclusion.”
- MP Albas: “Bill C-74, Division 20. You’ve made a change that includes a schedule in the Criminal Code that includes money laundering, that effectively gives large corporations a get-out-of-jail card. Do you not remember your own legislation?”
- Morneau: “How is it that you see this gives an organization a get-out-of-jail-free card? I’m trying to understand.”
- MP Albas: “A deferred prosecution agreement basically allows you to not have any consequences in a court of law for cases of proven, found money-laundering. Your legislation, Minister. How does that make Canadians safer?”
- Morneau: “Well, I think there may be a fundamental misunderstanding on your part of what we’re trying to achieve here.”
Division 20 allows prosecutors on finding evidence of corporate corruption to “establish a remediation regime” that would see executives escape a prison sentence in exchange for payment of a fine and “voluntary disclosure of the wrongdoing”. The agreements would require cabinet and court approval.
“We have a method that gets those organizations to pay the price of their criminality or their bad behaviour, and it doesn’t in any way negatively impact their employees, or other unwitting people that happen to work in those organizations,” said Morneau.
The Department of Public Works in a 2017 paper Expanding Canada’s Toolkit To Address Corporate Wrongdoing described prosecution of white-collar criminals as costly and time-consuming – “Investigations may take years,” wrote staff – but acknowledged no-jail agreements are controversial.
“The chief argument that has been made against deferred prosecution agreements is that they may not deter misconduct,” said Wrongdoing. “Some argue that agreements have become ‘a cost of doing business’, allowing corporations to buy their way out of trouble by paying a financial penalty and passing the costs onto the consumer.”
Commissioner of Elections Yves Côté in 2016 waived prosecution of Canada’s largest engineering company, SNC-Lavalin Group, after executives illegally funneled $109,616 in donations to the Liberal Party. A single manager, Normand Morin, retired executive vice-president, was charged May 17 with five counts of alleged illegal cash donations in breach of the Canada Elections Act.