Justin Trudeau must clear the air on SNC-Lavalin
There’s one person who could credibly deny the suggestion that Jody Wilson-Raybould was pressured by the Prime Minister’s Office to intervene in the prosecution of the engineering giant SNC-Lavalin while she was justice minister.
And that, of course, is Jody Wilson-Raybould herself.
On Thursday, her silence spoke volumes. In the face of a detailed report in the Globe and Mail containing allegations that she was pressed to give SNC-Lavalin a legal break, she offered only a weighty “no comment.”
Instead, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his new justice minister, David Lametti, repeated the same line over and over again. “At no time,” the prime minister said, “did I or my office direct the current or previous attorney general to make any particular decision in this matter.”
It was lost on no one that the PM’s flat denial that Wilson-Raybould, in her capacity as attorney general, was “directed” to intervene in the SNC-Lavalin case did not necessarily cover more subtle forms of persuasion or influence.
The Globe reported that the company lobbied federal officials more than 50 times since 2017 on “justice” and “law enforcement” issues, including 14 times with Trudeau’s closest advisers in the PMO.
What exactly did they discuss? Did it include the possibility of SNC-Lavalin benefitting from a so-called remediation agreement that would allow the company to avoid a criminal trial on serious fraud and corruption charges (and therefore remain eligible for lucrative government contracts)?
And what communications, if any, did members of Trudeau’s office have with Wilson-Raybould and her office on this issue?
These are questions that can’t simply be waved away with a carefully worded blanket denial.
Wilson-Raybould lost her job as justice minister in the prime minister’s mid-January cabinet shuffle. She was clearly unhappy to leave that high-profile portfolio and go to veterans’ affairs.
The clear suggestion of the report, one made explicit by Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer and others in the House of Commons, was that Wilson-Raybould was shuffled out of justice because she was unwilling to take the hint from the PMO and instruct the director of the public prosecution service to work out a remediation agreement with SNC-Lavalin, a past Liberal party donor that would be seriously hobbled if it had to endure a criminal trial.
If true, that would be a very troubling development. The justice department should surely be making decisions on such matters on the basis of the facts before it, and do so in a transparent manner. Especially in a government that has made so much recently of upholding the “rule of law” and avoiding political interference in legal matters.
There were always unanswered questions about Wilson-Raybould’s removal as justice minister. Post-shuffle, there were suggestions that she wasn’t quite up to the job. But in fact she accomplished a lot in the justice portfolio, and certainly stumbled less than some ministers who have been kept on. Her demotion never really added up.
Following the shuffle, she issued a statement that called attention to her former function as attorney general, saying that job requires a “measure of principled independence” from the government of the day. “It is a pillar of our democracy,” she added, “that our system of justice be free from even the perception of political interference and uphold the highest levels of public confidence.”
At this point, there is indeed the perception of political interference in the SNC-Lavalin matter. The government needs to provide clearer and much more complete answers on this issue quickly, or face an erosion of its credibility.