Trudeau denies report his office pressured attorney general to help SNC-Lavalin

Olive Hawkins
February 10, 2019

Was the PMO applying pressure on the Attorney General in an attempt to influence the minister to persuade her prosecutors to move away from the pursuit of criminal corruption and fraud prosecution against worldwide and Montreal-based engineering giant SNC-Lavelin, opting instead for remediation.

The officials said the government would have been remiss not to deliberate over the fate of the Quebec giant, given that a prosecution could bankrupt the company, putting thousands of Canadians out of work.

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.

Jody Wilson-Raybould is doubtless raising anxiety levels in the Prime Minister's Office and with the prime minister himself.

However, Rankin was not optimistic that Wilson-Raybould would answer questions about the case, even if the committee votes in favour of a study, as she was shuffled out of the justice portfolio and named minister of veterans affairs last month, a move widely seen as a demotion.

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

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Veterans Affairs Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould at a swearing in ceremony on January 14, 2019.

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.

Parliament was seized this week by an allegation that the Prime Minister's Office tried to pressure its justice minister into interfering in how federal prosecutors treat the corruption case of SNC-Lavalin, a massive Montreal-based engineering and construction firm.

Consequently, they said, it was natural that internal discussions would have taken place after the director of public prosecutions, Kathleen Roussel, informed SNC-Lavalin last October that a remediation agreement would be inappropriate in this case.

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The Public Prosecution Service of Canada is created to make decisions independently, but it is still accountable to the attorney general and can be directed by the attorney general as long that direction is made public.

Scheer says Conservatives on the House of Commons justice committee, along with the New Democrats, will also force an emergency meeting to consider a motion calling on nine high-ranking government officials to testify, including Wilson-Raybould herself. "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".

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh are calling for an ethics probe into the allegations.

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"All this cries out for some serious investigation, " he said in a telephone interview from Burnaby, where he is campaigning for a seat in the House of Commons in a February 25 byelection.

The federal director of public prosecutions is officially asking a court to toss out a plea from SNC-Lavalin to spare the company from criminal proceedings. Singh also pointed to sections in the Act which govern "Influence" and "Insider Information" as potential sources of other violations.

For the second day in a row the political opposition roasted the federal government over possible political interference.

As to whether Wilson-Raybould is truly bound to secrecy on this by solicitor-client privilege, as she insists she is, it is hard to say for certain without knowing exactly what she discussed with the Prime Minister's Office. He predicted "history will prove that she did the right thing".

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

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