The SNC-Lavalin affair has thrown the Liberal government into disarray with a growing list of high-profile resignations from cabinet, and calls for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to resign. It’s also compounded by a host of other matters that will continue to plague the government as it heads into a fraught election year.
On Monday, Jane Philpott made the surprise announcement that she had quit her role as Treasury Board president—following former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould’s resignation last month—stating she had “lost confidence” in how the government handled the SNC-Lavalin matter.
“Unfortunately, the evidence of efforts by politicians and/or officials to pressure the former Attorney General to intervene in the criminal case involving SNC-Lavalin, and the evidence as to the content of those efforts have raised serious concerns for me,” wrote Philpott, who formerly served as both health minister and Indigenous services minister, and held a reputation for being one of Trudeau’s most effective ministers.
“I must abide by my core values, my ethical responsibilities and constitutional obligations. There can be a cost to acting on one’s principles, but there is a bigger cost to abandoning them.”
On Tuesday, Trudeau repeatedly changed his schedule, outright cancelling a packed trip to Regina. “Another sign it is not business as usual for Justin Trudeau,” tweeted one CBC News reporter.
And with Trudeau’s former principal secretary Gerald Butts, who also resigned last month, testifying among three witnesses at the House justice committee tomorrow, there is no sign of the controversy slowing down amid other ongoing contentious matters.
Last week, China’s Foreign Ministry latched onto the SNC-Lavalin debacle as a chance to call the integrity of Canada’s independent justice system into question as Trudeau rebuffed accusations that he and his staff inappropriately tried to pressure Wilson-Raybould to interfere in the criminal prosecution of the Quebec construction and engineering firm
Trudeau has repeatedly said that his government had no role in the arrest of tech giant Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou at the Vancouver airport in December, and that he cannot interfere in the matter because the government of Canada “respects the independence” of the judiciary. Meng was arrested at the request of US law enforcement who are asking that she be extradited to the US to face charges that she conspired to violate sanctions against Iran. Meng is currently released on bail pending the completion of the extradition proceedings, which could take years, and China continues to call for her release.
And the case has made the relationship between China and Canada even more tense as a number of Canadians in China were arrested in China seemingly in response to Meng’s arrest, with one man being sentenced to death for drug smuggling after appealing a previous decision that sentenced him to 15 years in prison.
The Chinese embassy has previously described the case against Meng as “not a merely judicial case, but a political persecution against a Chinese high-tech enterprise.” When asked by a state media journalist in Beijing last week whether Trudeau had contradicted himself by saying his government couldn’t intervene in that matter, Chinese Foreign Affairs spokesman Lu Kang praised that question.
“Now, in fact, not only Chinese and Canadian citizens, but the whole world is extremely interested to hear how the Canadian government answers this," Kang said.
Things ramped up on Sunday as lawyers for Meng filed a civil lawsuit against the Canadian government, the border agency, and the RCMP over alleged constitutional violations during her arrest.
Saudi Arms Deal
Saudi Arabia’s foreign affairs minister said on Monday that it expects Canada to proceed with a $15 billion arms deal involving the sale of light armoured vehicles to the kingdom, even though Trudeau said in December that his government was looking for a way out of it. A spokesperson for Canada’s foreign affairs minister Chrystia Freeland told reporters on Tuesday that “no final decision is being made” and the deal is currently under review.
There have long been calls for Canada to cancel the deal, following similar moves by countries such as Germany and Sweden, over ongoing human rights abuses and concerns that the Canadian-made LAVs are used against Saudi citizens. Calls from academics and arms control activists amplified after the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year, and ongoing killings in Yemen.
Tensions between Canada and Saudi Arabia intensified following a tweet written in Arabic by Canada’s embassy in Riyadh that demanded the release of human rights activists. Saudi retaliated by freezing trade with Canada, kicking out the Canadian ambassador, and demanding an apology.
“The government has clearly gotten to a point that its most pragmatic staffers and advisers must be convinced that this is too costly for Canada’s reputation,” Mark Kersten, deputy director of the German-based international law group Wayamo Foundation, told The Guardian . “But there needs to be a degree of healthy skepticism here. We’ve seen this before with the Trudeau government: they say one thing and either do nothing, or the exact opposite.”
Vice-Admiral Mark Norman
Amid The Globe and Mail reports of allegations of attempted political interference by the prime minister’s office against Jody Wilson-Raybould, the legal team defending Vice-Admiral Mark Norman requested that any redacted notes from meetings between government lawyers representing the Privy Council Office and Crown prosecutors be fully disclosed.
“The PCO supports the prime minister. They implement what the Prime Minister’s Office wants. They execute on behalf of the Prime Minister’s Office,” Norman’s lawyer, Christine Mainville, told the court in February.
“So much for the independence of the [Public Prosecution Service of Canada],” the justice replied.
"Unlike the SNC Lavalin case, there is a very real person standing trial here," Mainville told reporters afterwards. "It would be particularly egregious if indeed there was political interference in this case."
Norman, the Canadian military’s former second-in-command, is accused of breach of trust leaking cabinet secrets related to a $668 million shipbuilding deal.
The director of Canada’s federal prosecution service fought back against Mainville’s interference accusations, saying that the department has “not sought or received instructions” from any other government body in the matter.
On Tuesday, a second civil servant who was charged separately, but in the same RCMP investigation that targeted Norman, of breach of trust for leaking cabinet secrets pleaded not guilty.
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