SNC-Lavalin has long been seen as one of Canada’s biggest corporate success stories. With SNC now over a century old, and billions in contracts spanning the globe, the Engineering and Construction giant is now among the world’s top five Global Design firms. Or at least it was until this fall.

Yesterday the company’s former CEO, Pierre Duhaime was arrested in Montreal by the “Hammer” anti-corruption squad. He’s charged with fraud, conspiracy to commit fraud and using forged documents, in relation to a new $1.3 billion “superhospital” project at McGill University. He was forced to resign last month after audits revealed $56 million in dodgy payments. Former VP, Ben Aissa who oversaw construction is also being sought, though he’s currently being detained in Switzerland on charges of international money-laundering.

The missing payments and laundered money, thought to be around $140 (Canadian) at this point, were used to “help secure contracts” with governments like the now-deposed regime of Moammar Gadhafi in Lybia. Since the revolution, SNC-Lavalin has come under international scrutiny for their involvement with the regime, going so far as to attempt to smuggle members of the Gadhafi family out of the country.

Before that, the company’s infamy came largely from their role as military contractors. Referred to as “Canada’s Halliburton“, they’ve been involved extensively in the Iraq and Afghan wars. For Iraq, they’ve built power plants, pipelines and manufactured between a third and half billion bullets for the US Military. In Afghanistan, they’re Canada’s largest private contractor.

A lot is being written about the company’s latest scandal(s), but few are drawing the obvious connections. Why did anybody expect that a corporation which saw nothing wrong with providing hundreds of millions of bullets for the Iraq occupation and paying who-knows-how-many millions in bribes to the Gadhafi regime would even blink at defrauding a public hospital in their own hometown? Amorality is amorality – we can hold out hope that our leaders are racist and nationalist enough not to treat us the same way they treat Libyans or Iraqis, but ultimately, if the price is right, they will.

Of course, this raises the question, once again, of how widespread corruption is within Canada’s ‘power elite’? How many more mayors, CEOs and bureaucrats will be drawn into these inquiries, and how many more will have to be sacrificed to satiate the public’s thirst for blood? How many will escape prosecution entirely? And even if every single one were captured, how long would it take for this level of corruption to set in again?

Power corrupts. Wherever the opportunity exists, so will the temptation to take “advantage” of them. That’s true of governments, corporations, religions, armies and schools. As long as we rely on small, secretive and self-interested cliques of individuals to run our society’s largest institutions, we’ll keep falling victim to those who take a little too much for themselves.

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