Should governments interfere in criminal prosecutions? It depends, says AG David Lametti
Canada’s new Justice Minister and Attorney General David Lametti is not saying whether he thinks it’s appropriate for a government to interfere in a criminal prosecution for political reasons.
Lametti was pressed about the issue in an interview with Mercedes Stephenson on The West Block Sunday, as the government faces criticism over allegations of attempted meddling in the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin.
Lametti, who was appointed in January after his predecessor Jody Wilson-Raybould was shuffled to veterans affairs, was asked about the reasons a government should interfere in a corruption trial.
“If someone approached you and said an election is at stake, would that be a persuasive argument to you?” Stephenson asked.
WATCH: Lametti not ruling out “legal option” to give SNC-Lavalin a special deal
He said it “depends on the context” and added that he doesn’t know if the contact between Wilson-Raybould and key figures in the Trudeau government on SNC-Lavalin was appropriate or inappropriate because he doesn’t know the details.
When asked how winning an election could be an appropriate reason for an attorney general to intervene in the justice system, Lametti did not directly address the question.
Instead, he provided the example of the U.K. attorney general abandoning an inquiry on a Saudi Arabian arms deal at the behest of then-Prime Minister Tony Blair over national security concerns and how that was later found to be appropriate.
Lametti said “political considerations are appropriate for discussion around the cabinet table and, therefore, with the attorney general” in accordance with the Shawcross principle, which allows for consultation but stresses that decisions rest with the attorney general.
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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has denied allegations that he or his staff have acted inappropriately in reference to the possibility of cutting a deal for SNC-Lavalin — and said he does not agree with the version of events presented during Wilson-Raybould’s marathon testimony before the House of Commons justice committee Wednesday.
He has said, however, that the government has a responsibility to look out for jobs and the economy. SNC-Lavalin is a big employer in seat-rich Quebec, and a conviction on fraud and corruption charges would prevent it from competing for lucrative public contracts.
Lametti, a Montreal MP, also didn’t rule out the possibility of a future remediation agreement, a deal that would allow SNC-Lavalin to admit wrongdoing and pay a fine but avoid a ban on bidding for government work. He said it was a legal option but refused to say whether he is considering it.
WATCH: Lametti says he didn’t know Wilson-Raybould rejected cutting SNC-Lavalin deal when he took over
He said that attorney general decisions can always be changed if new information comes to light.
“You do have an ongoing obligation as attorney general, in terms of your relationship to prosecutions and the prosecution service, to be open to new facts,” he said. “I can’t speak to the actual facts [of the SNC-Lavalin affair] but I know that in principle, an attorney general has to remain open so, in that sense, no decision is ever final.”
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—With files from Amanda Connolly, Global News
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