Canada ex-attorney: Government tried to interfere in case

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Canada’s former attorney general testified Wednesday she experienced a consistent and sustained effort by many people in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government to inappropriately interfere in the prosecution of a major Canadian engineering company and said it included “veiled threats.”

Ex-justice minister and ex-attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould said Wednesday that 11 people tried to interfere in her prosecutorial discretion and said in a meeting with Trudeau, the prime minister raised the issue and asked her to “help out” with the case. Wilson-Raybould said she asked Trudeau if he was politically interfering with her role as attorney general and told him she would strongly advise against it.

“No, no, no. We just need a find a solution,” she said Trudeau responded.

She said Trudeau told her that if Montreal-based SNC-Lavalin didn’t get a deferred prosecution there would be jobs lost and it would move its headquarters from Montreal to London. Wilson-Raybould said she was “barraged” and subjected to “hounding” by members of the government.

Trudeau’s government has been on the defensive since the Globe and Mail newspaper reported Feb. 7 that Trudeau or his staff pressured her to try to avoid a criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin over allegations of corruption involving government contracts in Libya. Critics say that would be improper political meddling in a legal case.

“For a period of approximately four months, between September and December of 2018, I experienced a consistent and sustained effort by many people within the government to seek to politically interfere in the exercise of prosecutorial discretion in my role as the attorney general of Canada,” she told a Parliament justice committee.

The scandal has been a significant blow to Trudeau, who is facing an election this year.

Gerald Butts, Trudeau’s closet adviser, resigned last week but denied that he or anyone else pressured Wilson-Raybould. Michael Wernick, the top civil servant in the government, has also said that no inappropriate pressure was put on Wilson-Raybould and that Trudeau repeatedly assured Wilson-Raybould the decision on the SNC-Lavalin prosecution was hers alone.

Wilson-Raybould resigned from the Cabinet on Feb. 12 as veteran affairs minister but gave no reasons. She had been demoted from justice minister last month, and was furious, releasing a 2,000-word statement after that..

“I was concerned I was shuffled because of a decision I would not take with SNC, I raised those concerns with the PM,” she said. “Those concerns were denied.”

Wilson-Raybould said she would have resigned from Cabinet earlier if the government had overridden her and instructed the public prosecutor to begin negotiations on a settlement.

The Globe and Mail’s report this month said Trudeau’s office pressured her to instruct the director of public prosecutions to negotiate a remediation agreement with SNC-Lavalin. The agreement would have allowed the company to pay reparations but avoid a criminal trial on charges of corruption and bribery.

If convicted criminally, the company would be banned from receiving any federal government business for a decade. SNC-Lavalin is a major employer in Quebec, with about 3,400 employees in the province, 9,000 employees in Canada and more than 50,000 worldwide.

“It’s OK to talk about job losses. It’s OK to talk about it in initial conversations but when those topics continue to be brought up after there is a clear awareness that a decision has been made it becomes inappropriate,” Wilson-Raybould said.q