Conservatives call for emergency meeting after PMO, SNC-Lavalin report

Jody Wilson-Raybould

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

The Globe and Mail reported on February 7th, 2019 that senior officials in the PMO had exerted pressure on former Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould seeking her to interfere in the corruption trial of Montreal engineering giant SNC-Lavalin.

The company, based in Canada's Quebec province, was charged with corruption and fraud in connection with payments of almost 36 million US dollars in bribes to public officials in the former Libyan government of late leader Muammar Gaddafi and defrauded Libyan organizations of an estimated 98 million dollars between 2001 and 2011.

In a statement Friday morning, Wilson-Raybould, now veterans-affairs minister, said she is bound as the former attorney general by solicitor-client privilege and can not publicly talk about aspects of the case.

Asked directly about the case, Trudeau said: "The allegations in the Globe story this morning are false".

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.

McLeod said while the prime minister may not have "directed" Wilson-Raybould to abandon prosecution of SNC-Lavalin, even asking, suggesting or pressuring is "totally inappropriate". In return, the attorney general bears responsibility for decisions taken, and can't shift it to cabinet.

Then-Justice Minister and Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould in April 2017.

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.

Conservatives and New Democrats on the Commons justice committee are also joining forces to get an emergency meeting next week to consider a motion calling on nine high-ranking government officials to testify, including Wilson-Raybould herself.

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Ms. Wilson-Raybould was unwilling to instruct the director of the service, Kathleen Roussel, to negotiate a "remediation agreement" with SNC-Lavalin, according to sources who were granted anonymity to speak directly about what went on behind-the-scenes.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh are calling for an ethics probe into the allegations. "MPs have a duty to determine what exactly happened here and Justin Trudeau and his office must be forthcoming". Three months later, Wilson-Raybould was moved to the veterans affairs post, a move widely seen as a demotion.

"The chief argument that has been made against DPAs is that they may not deter misconduct", said the draft discussion paper on the topic prepared for the deputy minister of finance as a primer ahead of public consultations on the idea in the fall of 2017.

"On one hand, it was meant to enhance integrity in government by statutorily ensuring independence of the prosecution decision-making function from inappropriate political control, direction and influence", the book says. "This is not what we are seeing here", Mr. Scheer said.

NDP MPs Charlie Angus and Nathan Cullen on Friday wrote to ethics commissioner Mario Dion, suggesting the allegations could represent a breach of a provision of the Conflict of Interest Act that prohibits public office holders from giving "preferential treatment to any person or organization".

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

That left her successor at Justice, Lametti, to fend off opposition charges on Thursday of political interference in the justice system. Lametti said neither he nor Wilson-Raybould were ever directed or pressured to intervene with the director of public prosecutions to drop the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin. 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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