March 24, 2019

The complicated legality behind Wilson-Raybould silence on SNC-Lavalin scandal

23 February 2019, 04:59 | Edward Lowe

Gerald Butts looks on during a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday

Gerald Butts looks on during a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday

Liberal MP Jody Wilson-Raybould says she still can not publicly explain her decision to leave Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's cabinet but is looking forward to talking to her fellow caucus members.

Speaking to media on her way to the caucus meeting, Wilson-Raybould said she knows her continued deferral to solicitor-client privilege is "frustrating for many people", and that is why she is seeking legal advice, "to be able to ensure that I am confident in what I can and cannot say", when she appears before committee.

The PM's former attorney general made the comments moments before a vote calling for a public inquiry into the SNC-Lavalin affair that has seen Wilson-Raybould resign from cabinet and Trudeau's top advisor Gerry Butts walk the plank all over allegations the government doesn't want to talk about and wishes would go away.

The controversy erupted earlier this month when The Globe and Mail published a bombshell report alleging senior officials in the PMO had pressured Wilson-Raybould when she was attorney general to help the Quebec engineering giant avoid criminal prosecution.

But Justin Trudeau won't say if he will be waiving solicitor-client privilege so she can speak freely during her testimony.

The Liberal-dominated committee wants to hear first from academics about the legal principles underpinning the affair, which prompted Wilson-Raybould's resignation from cabinet last week and the departure this week of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's most trusted aide, principal secretary Gerald Butts.

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Last week, Wilson-Raybould quit cabinet.

Trudeau said he took the opportunity of the caucus meeting to offer an apology to Wilson-Raybould for his failure last week to immediately denounce anonymous criticism and cartoons about her that many felt were racist and sexist.

"My ethical and professional responsibilities as a lawyer are layered and incredibly complicated so I am still working with my lawyer".

MPs are also scheduled to vote today on a non-binding NDP motion calling for a public inquiry into the affair and the waiving of solicitor-client privilege. "At all times, I and those around me acted with integrity and singular focus on the best interests of all Canadians", he says.

"The coverup continues", said Conservative MP Pierre Paul-Hus after the closed-door committee meeting.

As part of these examinations, Trudeau said he welcomes Wilson Raybould testifying before the House Justice Committee.

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Court documents show the Director of Public Prosecutions told the engineering and construction giant last September 4 about its decision not to proceed with negotiations towards a remediation agreement to help SNC-Lavalin avoid bribery and fraud charges.

Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould makes an announcement regarding family law on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, May 22, 2018. The former minister said she would remain in the Liberal caucus, and another lawmaker said she will indeed be called to speak to the justice committee. She refused, and shortly later was demoted by Trudeau to the Veterans Affairs portfolio, which she has since resigned from.

Trudeau has said that he spoke with Wilson-Raybould about the SNC-Lavalin case 13 days later, on September 17.

"I'm going to attend caucus, as I always do".

"The way in which this story has unfolded - with nearly daily changes to the Prime Minister's version of events, with high-profile resignations, with anonymously sourced smear campaigns, and with co-ordinated cover-up manoeuvring - suggests this is not an ordinary political scandal", Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said in the Commons.

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