Ethics commissioner launches investigation into allegations of PMO interference in SNC-Lavalin case
The federal ethics commissioner is launching an investigation into allegations of political interference by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau‘s office in the SNC-Lavalin case, something Trudeau told reporters is “welcome.”
Last week, the Globe and Mail published a report alleging officials in the Prime Minister’s Office had tried to pressure former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to get public prosecutors to cut a deal with SNC-Lavalin to help the Montreal engineering giant avoid a criminal trial and possible conviction over corruption and fraud charges stemming from business activities in Libya.
Following that report, the NDP formally asked Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion to investigate.
In a statement issued Monday, the NDP said he has agreed to do so.
Dion’s office confirmed the news Monday afternoon but said it did not have a timeline for when the investigation might be completed.
Trudeau said he is not opposed to the probe.
WATCH: Trudeau says Wilson-Raybould confirmed he told her decisions on director of public prosecutions is ‘hers alone’
“We welcome the ethics commissioner’s investigation,” he said in a press conference in Vancouver, Wilson-Raybould’s backyard.
“I think it’s extremely important that Canadians can continue to have confidence in our justice system.”
While Wilson-Raybould did not appear with him, Trudeau said he has met with her twice during his visit.
Trudeau said Wilson-Raybould recounted in one of those meetings something he had apparently told her in the fall, which was when the public prosecution service first issued its refusal to enter into talks to cut a deal with SNC-Lavalin.
WATCH BELOW: Scheer says Trudeau should let Wilson-Raybould ‘speak for herself’
“She confirmed for me a conversation we had this fall, where I told her directly that any decisions on matters involving the director of public prosecutions were hers alone,” he said.
“The minister considers that because of questions of privilege, she cannot add anything to this.”
He added that he has asked Attorney General David Lametti to provide him recommendations on whether solicitor-client privilege should be waived, which Wilson-Raybould has suggested are preventing her from confirming or denying the allegations.
WATCH: Trudeau says justice minister to provide recommendations on possibly waiving solicitor-client privilege
News of the probe comes after Lametti refused to comment on the allegations earlier on Monday but appeared to draw a distinction between situations like cabinet colleagues raising concerns with attorneys general and someone actually telling them to do a specific thing.
Lametti was named attorney general last month after Wilson-Raybould was abruptly shuffled into the position of Minister of Veterans Affairs in what has been widely characterized as a demotion — the Globe and Mail report suggested that came as a result of her refusal to intervene with the SNC-Lavalin case.
WATCH BELOW: Attorney General David Lametti comments on “line that cannot be crossed” with politics and justice
“It is important to remember that while the attorney general sits at a certain distance from his cabinet colleagues, in Canada, unlike in other countries, he does not work in isolation from them or the important experiences or considerations those colleagues bring to the table,” Lametti told a crowd of lawyers at the Canadian Bar Association meeting in Ottawa.
“These discussions can improve the quality of decision making. But there is a line that cannot be crossed. Telling an attorney general what a decision ought to be be: that would be interference.”
His remarks echoed the denial issued by Trudeau last week of the allegations, which he called “false.”
“At no time did we direct the attorney general, current or previous, to take any decision whatsoever in this matter,” Trudeau told reporters.
Even when asked if there had been any broader “influence” attempts, Trudeau continued to say only that there had been no directives issued.
News of the ethics probe also comes after Liberal MP Wayne Long on Monday morning came out in favour of allowing a parliamentary committee to call as witnesses some of the most senior staff in the Prime Minister’s Office in an attempt to get to the bottom of the allegations.
Long, who represents the New Brunswick riding of Saint John-Rothesay, cited a need to “clear the air” and urged Liberal members of the House of Commons justice committee to allow the motion being put forward by Conservative and NDP members at a meeting on Wednesday.
Liberals hold a majority on that committee and can defeat the motion if they so choose.
WATCH BELOW: Trudeau denies allegation that PMO pressured AG to drop SNC-Lavalin case
According to the allegations published by the Globe and Mail last week, senior officials in the Prime Minister’s Office pressured Wilson-Raybould to get the public prosecution service to reverse its decision not to pursue what’s known as a “remediation agreement” or “deferred prosecution agreement” with SNC-Lavalin.
Such a deal would have seen the company admit wrongdoing, pay a penalty and give back any financial gains made in the alleged activities.
Crucially though, it would have prevented a possible conviction on corruption and fraud charges.
WATCH BELOW: Scheer says they’ll use legal, law enforcement tools if testimony blocked at justice committee on SNC-Lavalin
Such a conviction would bar the Quebec corporate darling from bidding on lucrative federal contracts for 10 years.
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