(December 1, 2013) Contrary to Canada’s boy-scout image, Canadian companies have been among the Western world’s worst offenders.
Our governments have been soft on corruption. Contrary to Canada’s boy-scout image, Canadian companies have been among the Western world’s worst offenders. This not only harms the direct victims of our corruption – generally the citizens of the Third World and taxpayers at home – it also harms the global environment and corrodes the values we hold dear. [See: Stop Canadian Corruption Abroad for an overview of Canada’s role as a briber of foreign officials].
Transparency International, the global anti-corruption watchdog, recently criticized Canada’s current enforcement efforts as “limited.” The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has for years scolded Canada for being the worst enforcer of international anti-corruption measures in the G7, only recently expressing hope that changes to our legislation will send a signal to companies that they can no longer bribe officials in foreign countries with impunity. The RCMP now has 35 active investigations of foreign corrupt practices by Canadian companies or their employees.
Canada’s Acres International, which went bankrupt after we publicized its wrongdoing, was convicted in Lesotho, the tiny landlocked country in southern Africa, for bribing the head of a $12-billion dam building project. Now, SNC-Lavalin, Canada’s largest engineering multinational, stands accused of bribery, fraud, and corruption in some six countries.
Corruption diverts public monies into private pockets, robbing legitimate public services of scarce resources. Environmentally ruinous mega-projects like the Three Gorges Dam get the green light not because they’re needed but because they provide opportunities for bribes. Because these projects are rarely economic, they fail under a mountain of debt, leaving Third World governments in debt and Third World citizens with a legacy of a destroyed environment.
According to Michael Hershman, an international expert on transparency and accountability who is now advising SNC-Lavalin on how to eliminate internal wrongdoing, a “culture of corruption” persists in Quebec, where eight out of the 10 largest engineering firms have been named in testimony at the Charbonneau inquiry in connection to alleged illegal donations to political parties. At the federal level, for many years bribe payments were not only legal but even tax-deductible as a legitimate business expense, leading Bernard Lamarre, the former head of Lavalin Inc., to boast to Maclean’s in 1991 that whenever he did business in the Third World, he never handed out bribes without first demanding a receipt. “I make sure we get a signed invoice,” he explained. “And payment is always in the form of a cheque, not cash, so we can claim it on our income tax!”
After Parliament passed the Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act in 1998, the federal government ignored it. It wasn’t until 2008 that the RCMP created an office to investigate corruption by some of the country’s leading corporations.
SNC-Lavalin’s notorious troubles might not have ballooned if Canadian law enforcement had done its job. But that job would have been made easier if Canada’s Crown agencies – particularly Export Development Canada and the Canadian Commercial Corporation, which fund billions of dollars of foreign projects every year – were not shielded from public scrutiny and oversight. Both Crown corporations are protected by a shocking array of laws and regulations that allow them to keep virtually all details of their operations secret. Though they pay lip service to clean business, as long as they operate without transparency, Canadians can have no confidence that they are free of corrupt practices.
If you agree that corruption harms the Third World and that Canada needs to rid itself of our “culture of corruption,” let our federal government know that you want public disclosure of government contracts and enforcement of anti-corruption laws. And join us in our work with a generous tax-creditable donation. No Canadian advocacy organization has done more to blow the whistle on corruption by Canadians that harms the Third World. With your continued support, we’ll continue to fight for clean government and a clean environment.
I agree. Corruption must stop in Canada and the Third World!
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Categories: Campaign Letters