Jody Wilson-Raybould has found herself at the centre of a political controversy.
The former federal attorney general and justice minister has refused to comment on a report that she allegedly faced pressure from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) to intervene in the case against Quebec construction giant SNC-Lavalin while in her former post. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau denied the allegations as “false” last Thursday, the same day the report was published by The Globe and Mail.
Now, ethics commissioner Mario Dion has launched an investigation into the allegations. Speaking to reporters Monday in Vancouver, the prime minister said he welcomes the probe as it is “extremely important” for Canadians to have confidence in the justice system.
“The issue of solicitor-client privilege is not a simple one,” Trudeau said. He told reporters that he asked his new justice minister, David Lametti, to look into the matter of solicitor-client privilege and report back with recommendations on how to move forward.
Trudeau also revealed he met with Wilson-Raybould, who reminded him of a conversation they had last fall. That’s when he told her it was entirely up to her as attorney general to decide whether to instruct the director of public prosecutions to negotiate a remediation deal with SNC-Lavalin, Trudeau said.
The prime minister acknowledged that he and his team are “bound by cabinet confidentiality” when discussing the matter. However, Trudeau expressed his “full confidence” in Wilson-Raybould.
.@JustinTrudeau says @Puglaas confirmed with him a conversation where PM told her any decisions on matters involving Director of Public Prosecutions were hers alone. PM respects that she can’t comment due to privilege. “Her presence in cabinet should actually speak for itself.” pic.twitter.com/1OPHOOy2Y8
— Power & Politics (@PnPCBC) February 11, 2019
On Sunday, the leader of the Opposition penned a letter calling on the prime minister to waive solicitor-client privilege to allow Wilson-Raybould to comment on the allegations.
SNC Lavalin, a Montreal-based construction company, was charged with fraud and corruption in connection with payments to public officials in Libya under former dictator Moammar Gadhafi. The Globe and Mail report alleges Wilson-Raybould faced pressure from the PMO to seek a remediation agreement with SNC-Lavalin, which would allow the company to pay fines and avoid a trial in court.
The Department of Justice posted the following information online regarding remediation agreements:
“A remediation agreement would hold organizations accountable for their wrongdoing and would provide an incentive to rectify their wrongdoing, while avoiding some of the negative consequences of a criminal conviction. It could help result in faster compensation to victims and protect jobs of innocent employees and investments of innocent shareholders.”
The new justice minister has already disputed the allegations on multiple occasions.
“No direction was given to my predecessor, no direction has been given to myself in regards to this decision,” Lametti said in the House of Commons on Friday. Two days later, Lametti told CTV News‘ Evan Solomon the former justice minister faced “no direction and no pressure” from the prime minister in the case.
Wilson-Raybould has not said anything publicly about the matter, citing solicitor-client privilege. The Conservatives have questioned whether a political cover-up is going on. Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has called the allegations “incredibly disturbing.”
“This matter strikes at the very heart of our rule of law and calls into serious question the ethics and conduct at those of the highest levels in the Prime Minister’s Office,” Scheer said Friday.
Both Scheer and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh have called for an investigation into the allegations. Conservatives and New Democrats are expected to force an emergency meeting to consider a motion calling on nine government officials to testify on what they know about this case, Scheer revealed last week.
Wilson-Raybould was reassigned to Veterans Affairs during a cabinet shuffle last month, a move seen by many as a demotion. While she hasn’t weighed in on the recent allegations, she did release a statement in response to the cabinet shuffle.
“The role of the Attorney General of Canada carries with it unique responsibilities to uphold the rule of law and the administration of justice, and as such demands a measure of principled independence,” Wilson-Raybould wrote on Jan. 14. “It is a pillar of our democracy that our system of justice be free from even the perception of political interference and uphold the highest levels of public confidence.”
Wilson-Raybould’s father, Bill Wilson, put out a statement of his own on Facebook last week where he mentioned his daughter.
“History will prove that she did the right thing,” Wilson wrote on Feb. 7. “Her DEMOTION makes sense now, UGLY POLITICAL SENSE.”
On Sunday, Wilson chimed in once again.
“JODY was demoted because she would not ‘play ball’ with the Big Boys who run the Liberal Party,” Wilson said on Facebook. “Big industry & jobs threatened by honesty and integrity? Where have I heard this before?”
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With files from The Canadian Press