Canada ex-attorney: Government tried to interfere in case

Friday, 01 Mar, 2019

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, speaking immediately after Wilson-Raybould's testimony, said Trudeau had lost the moral authority to govern the country and called for the prime minister to resign.

Former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould says she came under "consistent and sustained" pressure - including veiled threats - from the Prime Minister's Office, the Privy Council Office and the finance minister's office to halt a criminal prosecution of Montreal engineering giant SNC-Lavalin.

Before Ms. Wilson-Raybould's testimony, Canadians knew Justin Trudeau had engineered an unwanted, sustained, and co-ordinated attempt to get Ms. Wilson-Raybould to change her mind and stop the criminal trial of SNC-Lavalin.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Thursday won the public support of a top political ally, indicating there is no immediate pressure inside his Liberal Party to oust him over a political scandal.

Wilson-Raybould provided a detailed accounting of meetings and phone calls to back up her accusations, breaking three weeks of silence on the affair that has rocked the government, prompting her resignation from cabinet and the departure of Trudeau's most trusted adviser, Gerald Butts.

This is a developing story.

On Thursday morning, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland told CBC's Ottawa Morning that she is "clearly of the view that the prime minister would never apply improper pressure, that the prime minister has always been clear about the unique role of the attorney general, and would respect that".

That effort, which included "express statements regarding the necessity for interference in the SNC-Lavalin matter, the potential for consequences, and veiled threats", lasted for a four month period, she said. Whether the government will survive her revelations in the next election will be up to Canadians and how much they - like JWR - value the rule of law.

In Toronto, Finance Minister Bill Morneau denied that his chief of staff, Ben Chin, did anything inappropriate in discussing the SNC-Lavalin case with Wilson-Raybould's staff. The political fallout, however, is hard to predict. Trudeau's path to re-election runs through the largely French-speaking province, where his defense of SNC-Lavalin is being applauded. "As we enter a critical budget debate, and with other pressing matters of public interest in need of action, Mr. Trudeau's cabinet must now find a way forward without him". He also repeated that both him and his office were appropriate in all their dealings with Wilson-Raybould and her office, and that he disagreed with her version of events. "This decision is the Attorney General's alone", said Trudeau.

The spurned ex-minister: Jody Wilson-Raybould was Canada's attorney general and justice minister.

"I don't anticipate being kicked out of caucus", she said after the testimony.

To be sure, she said she didn't believe Trudeau or his aides broke the law, but that their interventions were inappropriate. There, the RCMP allege, SNC-Lavalin executives took kickbacks from suppliers, keeping some of the money for themselves and the rest to bribe Libyan officials - including members of former dictator Moammar Gadhafi's family - in order to secure contracts in the company.

In a meeting with Trudeau, the prime minister raised the issue and asked her to "help out" with the case, she said. Settling out of court would also help the company, which employs about 9,000 people in Canada, avoid a ban on bidding for federal government contracts. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh didn't go that far, but said an independent inquiry is needed.

SNC-Lavalin is based in Quebec, a swing province that has always been viewed as essential ground for the Liberal Party to win during an election - which is coming up in October.

Trudeau defended Wernick's actions, saying they weren't partisan.