Published: Fri, March 01, 2019
Worldwide | By Stella Potter

Trudeau's former top adviser asks to testify after Wilson-Raybould bombshell

Trudeau's former top adviser asks to testify after Wilson-Raybould bombshell

The 47-year-old is accused of letting aides from his office inappropriately pressure former justice minister and attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould into dropping a prosecution against construction giant SNC-Lavalin.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau says his staff acted "absolutely appropriately" on the SNC-Lavalin file, denying any wrongdoing in presenting the economic case for helping the engineering company avoid a criminal trial.

In one conversation, Wilson-Raybould said, the Prime Minister expressed his concern to her about the potential for job lay-offs in Quebec if SNC-Lavalin were convicted, and asked her to "help out".

Such deals can only be made at the discretion of the Attorney General, and Wilson-Raybould said Wednesday that over four months she was repeatedly pressured by senior government officials to make such a deal with SNC-Lavalin.

Wilson-Raybould was shuffled to the veterans-affairs portfolio in January, a move she believes was a result of her not caving into the pressure on SNC-Lavalin.

One MP, Celina Caesar-Chavannes, continues her open - some would even say provocative - declarations in favour of Wilson-Raybould's revolt against the PMO. But federal prosecutors are uninterested in pursuing an agreement - a reality Trudeau's inner circle had struggled to change. Jagmeet Singh, leader of the third-place New Democratic Party, called for a full public inquiry.

The former minister told the committee she was "hounded" to end the prosecution for months after the director of public prosecutions, Kathleen Roussel, had rejected the idea of negotiating a remediation agreement with SNC-Lavalin and long after she had unequivocally declared that she would not direct Roussel to reverse her decision.

But the most egregious pressure came the following day, on December 19, when Wilson-Raybould said she received what she deemed to be three "veiled threats" from the clerk of the Privy Council, Wernick, that she could lose her job.

Trudeau himself has indeed radiated icy, nearly surreal calm in media encounters after Wilson-Raybould's testimony - even when technical glitches erupted in the midst of attempts to connect the PM with Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques, now orbiting above the Earth in the International Space Station. He also repeated that both him and his office were appropriate in all their dealings with Wilson-Raybould and her office, and that he disagreed with her version of events. Wilson-Raybould refused to interfere in the case, and it remains set for trial.

Windsor-based law firm Strosberg Sasso Sutts LLP has taken the first steps in filing a class action lawsuit against Quebec engineering company SNC-Lavalin Group Inc.

Mr. Seers told a press conference that he was "sickened and appalled by Wilson-Raybould's story of inappropriate and, frankly, borderline illegal pressure brought to bear on her by the highest levels of Trudeau's government".

A Morneau spokesman denied the minister or his staff had ever pressured Ms Wilson-Raybould when she was justice minister.

In the weeks since the allegations were first leveraged, Trudeau's principal secretary and advisor Gerald Butts resigned.

Prince, she said, told her through text messages that Butts told her, "There is no solution here that does not involve some interference", while Telford said, "We don't want to debate legalities anymore".

In an unusual move, Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland appeared on the Canadian Broadcasting say she fully backed Trudeau. He also said it's useful for the attorney general to sit at the cabinet table - unlike in some other jurisdictions, where the attorney general and justice minister are distinct.

Mr Trudeau said that to his knowledge no member of his staff has been contacted by the RCMP.

"It is troubling because I very deeply believe in our institutions".

"So I am not in agreement with the characterization of events that the former attorney general gave in her testimony".

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