Federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said this morning that his party will force an emergency meeting of Conservative and NDP politicians to demand an investigation into allegations that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office pressured former Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould to back off the criminal prosecution of a major Quebec construction firm.
In a press conference, Scheer said that Conservative party members on the Justice Committee, along with the NDP, will hold an emergency meeting next week to consider a motion that would require nine senior government officials, including Wilson-Raybould herself, to testify about the allegations that surfaced in a Globe and Mail report on Thursday.
The officials who Scheer said will be called to testify if the motion passes include Justice Minister David Lametti, Chief of Staff to the Prime Minister Katie Telford, and Wilson-Raybould herself, among others.
Here’s what you need to know about the biggest scandal facing the Trudeau government yet, in a year in which it is seeking re-election.
What is the allegation:
The Globe report alleges that in 2018, the Prime Minister’s office pressed then-Attorney General Wilson-Raybould to abandon court proceedings against SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. for fraud and corruption charges, and to instead negotiate an agreement that would keep the case out of criminal courts.
In 2018, Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government amended the Criminal Code to allow prosecutors to shelve criminal charges against Canadian companies accused of breaking the law, and instead allow authorities to make “deferred-prosecution” agreements that let companies avoid criminal prosecution.
The Globe report alleges that Wilson-Raybould was fired from her position as Justice Minister after she refused to abandon criminal charges against SNC-Lavalin. In a cabinet shuffle in January, Wilson-Raybould was appointed Minister of Veterans’ Affairs, a move seen by many political observers as a demotion.
VICE has not independently confirmed the allegations.
What is the prime minister saying about it:
The prime minister has denied that he “directed” Wilson-Raybould to shelve criminal proceedings against the corporate giant, but has refused to say whether his office tried to influence her on the matter.
Calling the allegations in the Globe story “false”, Trudeau told reporters that his office did not pressure Wilson-Raybould to make any decision regarding the SNC-Lavalin case.
“Neither the current nor the previous attorney general was ever directed by me nor anyone in my office to take a decision in this matter,” Trudeau said.
What is SNC-Lavalin and what is it accused of:
SNC-Lavalin is a multinational construction company with more than 50,000 employees worldwide. Its headquarters are in Montreal.
It is accused of fraud and corruption related to the company’s activities in Libya, where the Crown alleges the construction firm paid out more than $48 million to public officials in Moammar Gadhafi’s regime, allegedly to obtain lucrative public contracts. The company is also accused of defrauding Libyan organizations of more than $130 million.
The company has pleaded not guilty to the charges and the case is at the preliminary hearing stage.
In 2013, SNC-Lavalin was banned from bidding on any projects financed by the World Bank for 10 years, after an investigation alleged the company was involved in bribery schemes in Bangladesh.
Former SNC-Lavalin executives have been hauled into court for various offences — former CEO Pierre Duhaime recently pleaded guilty to helping a public servant commit a breach of trust, and former vice president Normand Morin has pleaded guilty to violating election financing laws for his role in a political donation scheme that allowed the company to circumvent rules barring corporate donations with employee contributions to federal Liberal and Conservative parties and to individual candidates.
Has the former justice minister commented?
Wilson-Raybould has remained largely silent about the reasons for the move, but after being ousted from her role as Justice Minister she wrote in a statement that “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.”
After the Globe report was released, Wilson-Raybould’s father, Bill Wilson, a Kwakwaka'wakw hereditary chief in BC who fought to enshrine Indigenous rights in the Constitution Act, wrote in a Facebook post that his daughter’s firing now “makes sense”.
"History will prove that she did the right thing […] Her DEMOTION makes sense now, UGLY POLITICAL SENSE", the post read.
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