Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo MP Cathy McLeod said she is “deeply disturbed” by the explosive allegations raised in a Globe and Mail story, allegations that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office pressured then-attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to abandon the criminal prosecution of Quebec engineering and construction giant SNC-Lavalin.
“Even more shocking, the prime minister may have fired her from her role as our country’s first Indigenous justice minister and attorney general,” said McLeod, the Conservative party’s Indigenous Affairs critic. “We have recently seen this just south of our border, where a leader dismissed his attorney general for defying orders.”
The Globe and Mail reported Thursday that Wilson-Raybould was demoted in a cabinet shuffle early last month because she wouldn't intervene in the case of SNC-Lavalin. The Quebec engineering and construction giant has been charged with bribery and corruption in a bid to secure government business in Libya and wanted a deal, allowed under the law, to pay reparations rather than be prosecuted.
In the House of Commons on Friday morning, McLeod rose to speak on the issue.
“Everyone was so proud that the former minister of justice and attorney general of Canada was an Indigenous woman,” McLeod said. “We congratulated her on her amazing success. We are now learning that the government threw her under the bus.”
In an interview with KTW, McLeod noted SNC-Lavalin illegally donated more than 100,000 to the Liberal Party of Canada and had lobbied the government numerous times at the highest levels.
“When the lobbyists meet with someone, they have to register and register what it was about,” she said. “This is a construction company and what it’s registering what its conservations are about are justice issues.”
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.”
McLeod said MPs were “puzzled” when Trudeau shuffled Wilson-Raybould to Veterans Affairs.
“They have to come clean on this,” McLeod said. “This is absolutely stunning.”
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh are calling for an ethics probe into the allegations.
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.
“If the prime minister has nothing to hide as he has suggested then he should have no reason to fear these individuals appearing before the justice committee,'' Scheer said on Parliament Hill. “MPs have a duty to determine what exactly happened here and Justin Trudeau and his office must be forthcoming.”
“The prime minister should have nothing to fear from an independent investigation by the federal ethics commissioner, Singh said separately.
“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 Feb. 25 byelection.
“If he truly wants to clear this up and believes there's been no wrongdoing, he should welcome an investigation from the ethics commissioner. ... Tell us what happened, be transparent, invite the ethics commissioner to investigate and tell us that this is not the case or, if it is the case, then there's a serious reckoning that needs to happen.''
Wilson-Raybould says she cannot discuss allegations that she was pressured by the Prime Minister's Office to help SNC-Lavalin avoid a criminal prosecution.
In a statement Friday morning, Wilson-Raybould says she is bound by solicitor-client privilege and cannot publicly talk about aspects of the case.
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. After lobbying by the company of government officials, including those in the PMO, the government included in its 2018 budget a Criminal Code amendment to allow such agreements to be negotiated in cases of corporate crime, as is done in the United States and the United Kingdom.
Last October, Kathleen Roussel, the director of public prosecutions, informed SNC-Lavalin that negotiating a remediation agreement would be inappropriate in this particular case. Three months later, Wilson-Raybould was moved to the veterans affairs post, a move widely seen as a demotion.
On the day Wilson-Raybould was shuffled out of her twin role as justice minister and attorney general, she penned an unprecedented, lengthy missive defending her performance in the job. Among other things, she wrote that “it is a pillar of our democracy that our system of justice be free from even the perception of political interference'' and that, as attorney general, she believed she must be “always willing to speak truth to power.''
She has refused to comment on the alleged pressure from PMO to help SNC-Lavalin avoid a criminal trial, telling the Globe and Mail that the matter is “between me and the government as the government's previous lawyer.''
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.
Wilson-Raybould's father, Bill Wilson, said in a Facebook post Thursday that his daughter's cabinet demotion “makes sense now — ugly political sense.'' He predicted “history will prove that she did the right thing.''
The attorney general is legally allowed to give directives to the public prosecutor on general issues and on individual cases, provided the directives are in writing and published in the Canada Gazette, the federal register.
The fact that such directives must be done publicly is intended to constrain a justice minister from doing anything overtly political.
— with files from Canadian Press