Trudeau spoke to Wilson-Raybould after prosecutors refused SNC-Lavalin deal

Christopher Davidson
February 23, 2019

Liberals say they are concerned about how Trudeau's team is dealing with the fallout of a newspaper report that officials from his office put pressure on then justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould a year ago to ensure construction firm SNC-Lavalin avoided a corruption and bribery trial.

The vote came just a couple of hours after Wilson-Raybould attended her first Liberal caucus meeting since resigning from cabinet last week.

The newspaper reported she was pressured to help SNC-Lavalin avoid a criminal prosecution on bribery and corruption charges related to government contracts in Libya.

The Liberal-dominated committee rejected an opposition motion calling on the prime minister to waive solicitor-client privilege and allow Wilson-Raybould to finally speak freely on the allegations.

And he wanted to know whether Trudeau ever expressed a preference to Wilson-Raybould for a remediation agreement in the SNC-Lavalin case.

It is not clear when Wilson-Raybould might appear.

In her first comments in the chamber since the SNC-Lavalin scandal erupted, the MP rose to explain why she did not vote on a motion introduced by NDP MP Charlie Angus that called on the government to launch a public inquiry into the brewing controversy.

Trudeau has acknowledged there were conversations with her about the case, but that he told her the decision was hers to make, and she was not being directed to do anything. "Privilege and confidentiality are not mine to waive and I hope that I have the opportunity to speak my truth", she concluded, as even louder applause broke out through the House.

"The coverup continues", said Conservative MP Pierre Paul-Hus after the closed-door committee meeting.

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The committee met behind closed doors Tuesday and agreed to invite Wilson-Raybould.

During question period, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer peppered Trudeau with questions about the September 4 refusal by the director of public prosecutions, Kathleen Roussel, to negotiate a remediation agreement with SNC-Lavalin, which faces charges of bribery and corruption related to government contracts in Libya. "It'll make the determination as to who it needs to hear from, but I think it is important that there be an airing on this situation", Trudeau said.

Wilson-Raybould is consulting lawyers about how much she can reveal about what happened with SNC-Lavalin.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian PressLiberal MP Jody Wilson-Raybould arrives to a caucus meeting on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on February 20, 2019.

As Conservative Michael Chong pointed out, committees have all the powers of a court to compel witnesses, exploding the contention by a Liberal justice committee chair, Anthony Housefather, last week that a parliamentary committee was not the right place to investigate the SNC case. The former minister said she would remain in the Liberal caucus, and another lawmaker said she will indeed be called to speak to the justice committee.

Trudeau said his government consistently stands up for the rule of law and the independence of the justice system and he is awaiting advice from Lametti on how to proceed on the question of privilege.

Unless those two accounts are glaringly at odds, that may well be the end of the matter and we are all going to wonder whether it was worth paralyzing the government of Canada for much of the past month.

The most serious political impasse this Liberal government has had to face may all come down to a difference of interpretation between a male political staffer and a female cabinet minister over what constitutes "undue pressure".

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