Justice Minister and Attorney General of Canada David Lametti appeared before MPs tonight to answer questions about SNC-Lavalin, the prosecution of Vice-Admiral Mark Norman and the independence of the Canadian justice system.
Lametti's grilling took place during a committee of the whole — a rare occasion when the entire membership of the House of Commons sits as a parliamentary committee, with the deputy Speaker chairing the session.
The questioning started shortly after 5:30 p.m. ET and continued until just before 10 p.m.
While the committee of the whole is designed to allow opposition MPs to ask questions about the main estimates of a given minister's department, the Conservatives had indicated they wanted to question Lametti on the SNC-Lavalin affair, Norman's breach-of-trust case and the independence of the judiciary.
Conservative MP Lisa Raitt opened the questioning by alleging Lametti's government tried to frustrate Norman's defence team's requests for documents.
"I'm wondering if the minister can comment on why it was decided there would be an attempt to suppress the documents attached to a duly placed motion in the court," she asked.
Lametti said that, while he was not the justice minister at the time, he is confident his department met its obligations.
"I make no comment on these various comments by my honourable colleague other than to say that I am confident that the Department of Justice did yeoman's work and completed its duty," he said.
Earlier Tuesday, in question period in the House, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer accused Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of trying to prevent the release of documents requested by the vice-admiral's defence team.
"It's important to remember where this file started," Trudeau replied. "On the eve of the 2015 election, Conservatives decided to rush through a half-billion-dollar sole-sourced project. We wanted to ensure that we did our own due diligence on this decision with the new federal cabinet. That's exactly what we did.
"In regards to documents, the government met all of its obligations with respect to third party records applications. The PMO provided all documents that responded to the subpoena directly to the Privy Council Office, who determined the relevancy and suggested redactions. This was all subject to approval by the judge."
Lingering questions about Norman, SNC-Lavalin
Norman, the former commander of the navy who also separately held the post of vice-chief of the defence staff, was accused of leaking cabinet secrets in relation to a $668 million shipbuilding deal to lease a supply vessel.
By the time the charge of breach of trust was laid against Norman, the Crown alleged he had not only leaked the results of that cabinet meeting to a now-former CBC journalist, but had also provided secret information on 11 other occasions to an executive at the Davie Shipyard.
The Crown stayed the charge last week, saying new information had come to light through Norman's defence team that convinced the prosecution there was no longer a reasonable chance of conviction.
The House of Commons voted unanimously Tuesday to apologize to Vice-Admiral Mark Norman for his legal ordeal, just days before opposition MPs are expected to push for a full-blown House of Commons committee investigation into the handling of the controversial criminal case.
Conservative MP Lisa Raitt proposed the motion, which saw the Commons recognize Norman "for his decades of loyal service to Canada, express regret for the personal and professional hardships he endured as a result of his failed prosecution and apologize to him and his family for what they experienced during their legal conflict with the government."
The Conservatives and the NDP wrote a letter last week to the Liberal chair of the defence committee asking for an emergency meeting Thursday, during which the opposition MPs will debate a motion to call for a full committee probe.
Jody Wilson-Raybould, the former justice minister and attorney general of Canada, told a Commons committee in February that she felt she was improperly pressured by 11 officials in the Prime Minister's Office and elsewhere to allow Quebec-based engineering company SNC-Lavalin to avoid bribery and corruption charges by striking a remediation agreement.
She did not order a deferred prosecution agreement — which would have permitted SNC-Lavalin to continue functioning without sanction, providing it met a number of conditions — but the ensuing political controversy raised questions about dividing her former role into two unique positions to ensure the independence of the judiciary.
On Tuesday evening, NDP MP Tracey Ramsey asked Lametti if he planned to give SNC-Lavalin a remediation agreement. "Because there's ongoing appellate litigation in the matter, I simply won't comment," Lametti replied.
Ramsey followed up by asking if "the minister think(s) that he was appointed as the new minister of justice and attorney general because he's an Quebec MP and arguably more receptive to a DPA with SNC-Lavalin."
"I have to admit I resent that question in the sense that I believe that my record in this House, my record as a legal academic over many years, would put me in a position to understand laws and apply laws and interpret laws in service to the Canadian public," Lametti said.