For the last few weeks Trudeau’s government has been reeling from claims that it inappropriately pressured the Canada’s attorney general to stop the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin, a firm from the prime minister’s home province.
The question of judicial independence is the question in the SNC-Lavalin case. Justin Trudeau’s office allegedly tried to quietly end a legal problem for the construction firm. These claims were brought to light by Trudeau’s former attorney General in a 4 hour long testimony at the House of Parliament. Jody Wilson-Raybould gave a detail account of Trudeau’s and top aides efforts to persuade her to end the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin for corruption charges.
Wilson-Raybould believes that Trudeau’s actions amounted to interference in the judicial system. Trudeau rejects her version of events, claiming he was merely trying to prevent job losses in his home province of Quebec.
However, during the testimony, she demolished the talking point from the government that Trudeau played no role in pressuring her to cut a plea deal with a Montreal-based company. She described and shared notes from meetings and phone calls with senior members of the government, including Trudeau. She said after she repeatedly fought pressure last fall from officials in Trudeau’s office and other departments to deliver a non-prosecution agreement, the prime minister brought it up with her.
She said Trudeau noted in a meeting last September that the company, SNC-Lavalin, is a major, longstanding employer in his home town.
Wilson-Raybould also said the prime minister and others raised the suggestion that cutting a deal could help the provincial wing of their Liberal party in an election last October, which it ultimately lost.
“At that point the prime minister jumped in, stressing that there is an election in Quebec and that ‘I am [a member of Parliament] in Quebec.’ … I was quite taken aback,” Wilson-Raybould said. “My response — and I vividly remember this as well — was to ask the prime minister a direct question while looking him in the eye. I asked, ‘Are you politically interfering with my role?'”
She said Trudeau said he wasn’t interfering.
But she was soon demoted to a lesser role in the Cabinet, replaced with a new attorney general from Trudeau’s home town, and she recently quit her Cabinet post.
The opposition seized the moment. The Conservative hoping to replace Trudeau in the election sent police a letter requesting an investigation.
Andrew Scheer asked the Mounties to investigate whether the acts described violated two criminal code items: one on obstruction of justice, the other against pressuring the attorney general.
He also called on Trudeau to resign.
“I was sickened and appalled by [the] story of inappropriate, and frankly bordering on illegal, pressure,” Scheer said. “Mr. Trudeau’s cabinet must now find a way forward, without him … They have a duty to govern this nation, not help a disgraced prime minister hang onto power.”
Trudeau disputed the characterization of events, but did not deny asking her to spare the company. He insisted he never directed the minister to drop charges.
“There are disagreements in perspective on this,” Trudeau said Thursday. “But I can reassure Canadians that we were doing our job and we were doing it in a way that respects and defends our institutions.”