Canada slid to its lowest level in at least a decade on a global index of corruption, driven down by the SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. scandal, a new report shows.
The country was ranked 12th of 180 countries on Berlin-based Transparency International’s 2019 Corruption Perceptions Index, an annual worldwide list from least corrupt country to worst issued Thursday. Canada ranked ninth in 2018 and sixth in 2010.
While Canada had the best score in the Americas – 77 out of 100 —, the country has slipped four points since last year and 12 points since 2010, the data shows.
“A former executive of construction company SNC-Lavalin was convicted in December over bribes the company paid in Libya,” Transparency International said in the report. “Our research shows that enforcement of foreign bribery laws among OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development ) countries is shockingly low,” it said, referring to a group of 36 countries sometimes called the rich nations club.
Denmark and New Zealand co-led the index, emerging as the world’s least corrupt states with scores of 87, while Somalia had the worst score at nine, followed by war-torn nations South Sudan, Syria and Yemen. The U.S. ranked 23rd and the U.K. tied with Canada, Australia and Austria.
The corruption index is among a handful of indicators — such as the Washington, D.C.-based World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business ranking that measures red tape in countries, and the United Nations’ Human Development Index that assesses lifespan, education and income — that give snapshots of a country’s performance. They can help influence foreign policy and even debt ratings.
The report didn’t specifically mention the political realm of the SNC-Lavalin scandal, and how Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was criticized by Parliament’s Ethics Commissioner for improperly influencing then-Minister of Justice and Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould to intervene in the bribery case facing the Montreal-based company. Wilson-Raybould later resigned from her posts and Trudeau expelled her from the Liberal party caucus.
“The controversy surrounding the attorney general, the governing party and the allegations of influence — another word for influence is corruption — that has to play into the index, and it should,” Richard Powers, associate professor of business ethics at University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, said by phone.
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Trudeau said he wanted SNC-Lavalin to face a deferred prosecution agreement — essentially a fine negotiated with a judge instead of a criminal trial — because it would help save jobs that might be put at risk from lost contracts after a criminal conviction. A bribery conviction could ban a company from federal contracts for a decade under government law and also risk contracts linked to the World Bank.
Last month, the Court of Quebec ordered SNC-Lavalin to pay a $280-million fine over five years, with three years of probation, in what appeared to be a break for the company. The RCMP had charged the builder with fraud and bribing Libyan officials in Moammar Gadhafi’s regime with $48 million from 2001 to 2011 to secure contracts.
Powers said Canada still has work to do on corruption issues, such as stamping out the paying-for-access to politicians, a trend that Transparency International cited as affecting many countries along with concerns over conflicts of interest, preferential treatment, electoral integrity, lobbying activities and civil liberties.
“The work around pipelines and Indigenous groups — there’s all kinds of stuff that comes up there,” said Powers, who noted Canada’s score would barely earn a B+ at Rotman. “Certainly arguments can be made that we’re not recognizing certain groups of people as best we should.”
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Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified University of Toronto associate professor Richard Powers.