The SCC interprets influence peddling broadly

By Yves Faguy March 23, 201823 March 2018

The SCC interprets influence peddling broadly

The Supreme Court dismissed Bruce Carson’s appeal, affirming his guilt on influence peddling charges in connection with his efforts to help a company sell water treatment systems to First Nations.  In an 8-1 ruling (Justice Suzanne Côté is the one dissenter), the top court noted that the former aide to then Prime Minister Stephen Harper admitted that he “was a person who had influence with the Government of Canada at the time…” The Criminal Code makes it a crime to sell influence “in connection with any matter of business relating to the government.” The Court wrote:

Simply showing that the accused accepted a benefit in exchange for promising to influence government does not suffice to make out the offence. Nevertheless, the phrase “any matter of business relating to the government” must be interpreted broadly. Reading the words of this phrase in their entire context and in their grammatical and ordinary sense, harmoniously with the scheme of the Act, the object of the Act, and the intention of Parliament, a matter of business relates to the government if it depends on government action or could be facilitated by the government, given its mandate. Matters of business relating to the government include publicly funded commercial transactions for which the government could impose or amend terms and conditions that would favour one vendor over others. The phrase “any matter of business relating to the government” must not be restricted to matters of business that can be facilitated by government under its existing operational structure. The offence captures promises to exercise influence to change or expand government programs.

The trial judge had acquitted Carson on account of the fact that it was up to the First Nations – not the government – to decide on whether to make the purchase.

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