The leader of the Canada’s main opposition party has called for a police investigation and for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to resign after explosive testimony from the country’s former attorney general, who said she was "hounded" for months by senior people in Trudeau’s government, who pressured her to drop a corruption case against the engineering giant SNC-Lavalin.
After weeks of silence on the matter, Jody Wilson-Raybould admitted to the Commons justice committee this week on Wednesday, 27 February that over four months to December 2018 she "experienced a consistent and sustained effort by many people within the government to seek to politically interfere in the exercise of prosecutorial discretion in my role as the attorney general of Canada".
Former Canadian attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould (Erich Saide/CC BY-SA 3.0)
She called it an "an inappropriate effort to secure a Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA) with SNC-Lavalin".
Various officials "hounded" her through phone calls, meetings and text messages, warning of consequences and issuing "veiled threats" if a DPA was not made available to the company, she said, reports CBC News.Â
Trudeau himself met her in September, warning of job losses and the risk of the Montreal-based firm’s move, and asked her to "help out", said Wilson-Raybould.
She told the committee she challenged him in the meeting, asking if he was interfering with her role as attorney general.
"No, no, no, we just need to find a solution," was Trudeau’s response, according to Wilson-Raybould.
The prime minister has denied putting pressure on her.Â Â
SNC-Lavalin has been campaigning to be allowed to take part in Canada’s Remediation Agreement programme, which came into force in September 2018.â€¨â€¨It faces charges laid in 2015 alleging that between 2001 and 2011 the company offered millions of dollars in bribes in return for work in Libya. â€¨â€¨It wants to avoid a lengthy trial. If found guilty, the company could be barred from government contracts.
The company argues that since the matter came to light in 2012 it has comprehensively overhauled itself, but prosecutors refused to allow it to apply for a remediation deal in October last year.
"Sickened and appalled"
After her testimony the leader of the opposition Conservative Party, Andrew Scheer, said the federal police must open an investigation, and he called on Trudeau to step down, saying the prime minister has lost his moral authority to govern.
"I was sickened and appalled by [Wilson-Raybould’s] story of inappropriate and, frankly, borderline illegal pressure brought to bear on her by the highest levels of Justin Trudeau’s government," he said, reports CBC.
Trudeau refuted Wilson-Raybould’s testimony and refused to step down.
"I strongly maintain, as I have from the beginning, that I and my staff always acted appropriately and professionally," he said Wednesday. "And therefore I completely disagree with the characterisation of the former attorney general about these events."
Wilson-Raybould was Minister of Justice and Attorney General until 14 January this year, when Trudeau moved her to the Ministry of Veterans Affairs, a post considered more junior, in a cabinet reshuffle.
The scandal erupted on 8 February when newspaper The Globe and Mail reported that unnamed government sources were alleging that the Prime Minister’s Office had pressured Wilson-Raybould to overturn prosecutors’ refusal to offer SNC-Lavalin leniency.
On 11 February Canada’s Ethics Commissioner said he would open an investigation into the allegations.
On 12 February Wilson-Reybauld resigned from Trudeau’s cabinet. Until testifying this week, she had refused to comment on the SNC-Lavalin matter.