Transparency International Criticizes Harper Administration For Not Enforcing Anti-Bribery Laws

OTTAWA - (CP) Canada has again been singled out for failing to enforce anti-bribery rules abroad by an international report that points the finger at Prime Minister Stephen Harper's lack of commitment.

"Canada is the only G7 country in the little or no enforcement category, and has been in this category since the first edition of this report in 2005," Transparency International said Tuesday.

The watchdog group ranks Canada with other laggards such as Bulgaria, Estonia, Greece and Slovenia, but also Australia, New Zealand and Israel.

The report states that "the principal cause of lagging enforcement is lack of political commitment by government leaders."

Canada, which accounts for 2.5 per cent of global exports, is by far the largest exporter among the 21 countries Transparency International cites for failing to live up to their signatures under a 1997 OECD anti-bribery convention.

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development issued its own report card in March that found "Canada's regime for enforcement of the Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act remains problematic in important areas."

This was a particular concern, said the OECD, because of the large number of "high-risk industries" headquartered in Canada, including three quarters of the world's exploration and mining firms.

Only a single Canadian company has been convicted of foreign bribery in the past decade, and the $25,000 fine issued by the court was less than the bribe involved.

Transparency International recommends Canada "show a more visible public commitment to enforcement" of anti-bribery laws.

It's an embarrassing record for a Conservative government that came to power in 2006 claiming to be corruption fighters, and that has maintained a constant "tough on crime" drumbeat ever since taking office.

"Our government takes corruption and bribery seriously, regardless of where it happens," Andrew MacDougall, a spokesman in the Prime Minister's Office, said in an email Tuesday.

"We have strong measures in place to combat corruption, and will continue to take appropriate action, as necessary."

MacDougall said the government would examine Transparency International's report closely before commenting further.

It is a troubling read.

Transparency International says the "Canadian legal system and courts do not handle complex white-collar criminal cases well."

It cites the "inadequacy" of an RCMP anti-corruption unit that has only 14 officers who also handle non-bribery issues.

It says Canada has failed to base its anti-bribery law on the jurisdiction of nationality — which would ensure any Canadian anywhere is subject to the law, the way Canada treats crimes such as terrorism and sex tourism.

It says that although penalties listed under Canada's anti-bribery convention are adequate, the only prosecution to date resulted in a penalty "too low to be effective, proportionate and dissuasive."

And the report called out Canada's government to clearly state it "would not take into account consideration of national economic interest, the potential effect upon relations with another state or the identity of the ... persons involved" when deciding whether to investigate and prosecute a bribery allegation.

NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar said the report is "a black eye for Canada."

It's particularly galling, said Dewar, because the Harper government has spent much of the past two years talking about transparency and accountability in the spending of foreign-aid dollars.

"This is from a government that rode into town on the transparency and anti-corruption horse," said the New Democrat.

"We go on the world stage and wag our finger at emerging economies ... and then you look at our report card and it's a fail."

He noted the Conservatives closed ranks in the last parliament to help vote down an NDP private member's bill on corporate social responsibility.

Transparency International's seventh annual report laments a lack of overall movement among the 38 signatories to the OECD anti-bribery convention more than a decade after it was adopted.

It worries that even the global leaders in enforcing anti-bribery laws, such as Germany and the United States, will be dragged down by the lowest common denominators.

"With little or no enforcement by half of the signatory governments, backsliding by enforcing governments is a serious threat," the report states.

"This concern is aggravated in a troubled global economy in which companies are scrambling for business."

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version said 36 countries were signatories to the convention