The SNC-Lavalin story has been dominating The Globe and Mail’s coverage for two weeks. It all started with an article, based on information from confidential sources, headlined: “PMO pressed justice minister to abandon prosecution of SNC-Lavalin.”
Some readers have written in to praise the investigative reporting behind this story by Ottawa bureau chief Robert Fife, Ottawa parliamentary reporter Steven Chase and justice reporter Sean Fine. “You just gained a subscriber, keep up the good work,” said one. “Keep chasing,” said another.
But I’ve also heard from others who were uncomfortable with the initial article coming from “anonymous sources” and unhappy with the reporting since then. A reminder here: The sources who told The Globe that former attorney-general Jody Wilson-Raybould was put under pressure are not anonymous. They are confidential sources known to the reporters, two of whom are very experienced Ottawa hands with dozens of years of experience covering federal politics. People in a position to know what’s happening clearly trusted Globe reporters.
Still, I did understand the questions following The Globe’s first story, which included a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office saying just that it “did not direct the attorney-general to draw any conclusion.”
The next day, the Prime Minister himself repeated that careful statement but refused to say whether she was put under pressure (which is what the original article said, not that she was directed) or whether his office attempted to influence her decision.
The first few days of a big story are a time to pause on conclusions and instead understand that much may remain unknown or publicly confirmed. Good daily reporting will reveal more.
Yesterday, the country’s top bureaucrat, in public, basically confirmed to the justice committee that Ms. Wilson-Raybould was pressed on her decision to go forward with the trial against SNC in three separate meetings months after she had already made a ruling. His statement was that she was not put under “inappropriate pressure” and that it was “lawful advocacy.”
In a statement, Globe editor-in-chief David Walmsley said: “Today’s testimony confirms our reporting that a series of meetings with the attorney-general took place after the independent prosecutor had issued what was said to be a final ruling. Indeed, the clerk, in his testimony, confirmed he spoke to the attorney-general as late as December and expressed the view that the Prime Minister was ‘quite anxious’ about the future of the company."
Even yesterday, I heard from several readers complaining that the original article was based on “hearsay, unknown sources.” Another called it a “tempest in a teapot engendered by The Globe’s coverage of this purported scandal.”
So, much has been confirmed and more will be unveiled with further reporting. The Prime Minister has not really explained what he said when he met with Ms. Wilson-Raybould and why she was demoted in cabinet. She is due to speak to the parliamentary committee next week. To readers who want more transparency, I say: Keep following the coverage.
A few readers are quick to call this partisan reporting, but with more than 40 years in the business, I can promise you that similar reporting happens with all political parties, especially the one in power. That is a responsibility of the media.
Mr. Walmsley noted that the Globe’s investigation has been shown to be true and one should not “create a false equivalency when they lump old-school investigative journalism with partisan mudslinging and half-truths so often found on social media. We have no agenda other than a belief in our institutions and because of that belief we are motivated to demand better of them. Focusing on firm independent journalistic inquiry is our duty.”
As I told one reader who complained, Globe reporting on this story has dominated Canadian media, and both Ms. Wilson-Raybould and the Prime Minister’s principal secretary, Gerald Butts, had resigned because of The Globe’s investigation. Just those two facts show how important this story is.
Another reader said The Globe must reveal its sources, given that “everyone is having a feast over these rumours…” That will never happen.
In 2010, The Globe and Mail took a case all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada to protect the ability of journalists to use confidential sources and protect whistle-blowers. A Montreal company was hoping to force The Globe through the courts to reveal a key source in a story on the sponsorship scandal, known as AdScam, broken by Globe parliamentary reporter Daniel Leblanc. Confidential sources revealed to Mr. Leblanc that some well-connected businessmen did little work in return for millions of dollars in federal sponsorship contracts, then kicked back some of the money to the Liberal Party of Canada.
The court outlined steps for judges to weigh the right to protect sources in public-interest matters and set a very high bar for forcing disclosure.
In the case of SNC-Lavalin, there is no need to reveal who the confidential sources are because the details in the original story have been confirmed. Readers have asked for more investigative journalism about what is happening behind the scenes in Ottawa and in our governments. This is an important example of just such work.