Opposition keeps heat on Liberals over Wilson-Raybould

Pablo Tucker
February 10, 2019

Canada's former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould was involved in government discussions last fall about whether engineering firm SNC-Lavalin should be allowed to avoid criminal prosecution, and the talks were perfectly legal, government officials have told The Canadian Press.

The company is facing allegations that it bribed Libyan officials millions of dollars to secure government contracts.

SNC-Lavalin was charged in 2015 by the RCMP and openly called for a remediation agreement to avoid damaging the company, a major employer in Quebec. On the matter of issuing directives to the director of public prosecutions (or "DPP"), the document says: "It is appropriate for the attorney general to consult with cabinet colleagues before exercising his or her powers under the DPP Act in respect of any criminal proceedings, in order to fully assess the public policy considerations relevant to specific prosecutorial decisions".

Moreover, as justice minister, Wilson-Raybould was responsible for a 2018 Criminal Code amendment at the heart of the current controversy - which specifically allowed for what's known as deferred prosecutions or remediation agreements to be negotiated rather than pursue criminal prosecutions against corporations.

On Thursday morning in Vaughan, Ont. PM Trudeau told reporters that: "The allegations in the Globe story this morning are false".

"At no point has the current minister of justice, or the former minister of justice, been pressured or directed", Arif Virani said.

Neither he nor anyone in his office "directed" Wilson-Raybould, or her successor David Lametti, "to take a decision in this matter" regarding the company's prosecution, said Trudeau.

Neither Wilson-Raybould nor SNC-Lavalin has immediately responded to questions from The Canadian Press about the story.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh wants there to be an ethics investigation into the allegations and says if they're not true, like Trudeau said, then he has nothing to worry about.

Mr. Scheer called for "full disclosure" from Mr. Trudeau on the interactions between the PMO and Ms. Wilson-Raybould regarding SNC-Lavalin.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said Trudeau's response was carefully crafted and legally vetted. "If he continues to fail to be transparent with Canadians, Conservatives will make every effort and explore every option to make sure Justin Trudeau and his office are held accountable".

Meantime, the parliamentary secretary to justice has offered the most sweeping denial yet from the Trudeau government.

The list includes Lametti, the prime minister's chief of staff Katie Telford and the prime minister's principal secretary Gerald Butts.

They spoke on condition their names not be used.

In the extensive conversations with Lametti about his new job, the matter was never mentioned, the source added.

Wilson-Raybould, now minister of Veterans Affairs, said Friday she would not comment on claims that the Prime Minister's Office tried to pressure her to help SNC-Lavalin avoid criminal prosecution in pending legal action against the construction company.

Earlier in the day, the Prime Minister faced a media scrum and according to several political pundits, the Prime Minister would not directly answer the question directly if his office had attempted to influence the Justice Minister.

Asked if he had spoken to his predecessor about whether or not she felt pressured regarding this case, Lametti said he hasn't, and doesn't plan on doing so.

This Globe and Mailstory strongly suggests the answer is yes, to both questions. "The attorney general of Canada is the chief law officer of the Crown and provides legal advice to the government with the responsibility to act in the public interest".

The fact that such directives must be done publicly is meant to constrain a justice minister from doing anything overtly political.

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