Did you or anyone in your office pressure the former attorney general to abandon the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin?Neither the current nor the previous attorney general was ever directed by me or by anyone in my office to take a decision in this matter.But the question is whether there was any sort of influence. Are you saying categorically there was absolutely no influence or any pushing whatsoever?At no time did I or my office direct the current or previous attorney general to make any particular decision in this matter.But not necessarily direct ... Was there any sort of influence whatsoever?As I’ve said, at no time did we direct the attorney general current or previous to take any decision whatsoever in this matter.Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is under siege over an allegation his office attempted to politically interfere in a criminal corruption case against SNC-Lavalin, a massive Quebec-based engineering firm with a hand in many Canadian infrastructure projects.Trudeau called the allegation “false” on Thursday and in a carefully worded response said he never issued directions on the case.“Neither the current nor the previous attorney general was ever directed by me or by anyone in my office to take a decision in this matter,” Trudeau told reporters.But the opposition accused him of parsing words to avoid answering whether any attempt at influence was made.“The prime minister must immediately come clean to Canadians about what he knew about this case and when he knew it,” said Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer. “Nothing less than full disclosure is acceptable.”The firestorm was kicked off by a report in The Globe and Mail Thursday that, citing confidential sources, alleged the Prime Minister’s Office leaned on then Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould to negotiate what’s known as a remediation agreement with SNC-Lavalin.The company was criminally charged in 2015 with allegedly paying bribes to Libyan public officials between 2001 and 2011 in exchange for construction contracts in that country. The National Post has not independently verified the allegation of political interference.A remediation agreement, also called deferred prosecution, would mean the prosecution is halted and the charges stayed in exchange for an admission of wrongdoing, full co-operation in the investigation of specific individuals and a fine. Proponents of remediation agreements say they bring faster restitution, avoid costly trials and treat company shareholders more fairly. The ability for Canada to pursue such agreements is new; the provision was in a budget bill passed in the spring of 2018.A conviction on fraud or corruption would be enormously damaging for SNCLavalin, barring it from bidding on federal government contracts for 10 years. SNC-Lavalin has long been pushing for Canada to adopt remediation agreements.Wilson-Raybould, according to the Globe report, rebuffed the pressure from the Prime Minister’s Office. In January, she was shuffled out of the portfolio and moved to Veterans Affairs. David Lametti, a former McGill University law professor, has taken over as Minister of Justice and Attorney General.After Wilson-Raybould was shuffled, she published an unusual statement on her website that hinted at disagreements with the Prime Minister’s Office.“It is a pillar of our democracy that our system of justice be free from even the perception of political interference and uphold the highest levels of public confidence,” her statement said. “As such, it has always been my view that the Attorney General of Canada must be non-partisan, more transparent in the principles that are the basis of decisions, and, in this respect, always willing to speak truth to power.”Speaking in Vaughan, Ont., on Thursday morning, Trudeau denied the substance of the Globe’s story. “The allegations in the Globe story this morning are false,” he said.But pushed twice on whether anyone in his office attempted any type of influence beyond “directing” the attorney general, Trudeau stuck by those particular words.“At no time did I or my office direct the current or previous attorney general to make any particular decision in this matter,” he said.Later, during question period in the House of Commons, Lametti said that neither he nor Wilson-Raybould was “under pressure” by the Prime Minister’s Office. But Lametti repeatedly attributed that phrase to Trudeau, despite Trudeau having never said that.“As the prime minister said earlier today, neither the prime minister nor his office put my predecessor or myself under pressure nor gave any directives,” Lametti said.Liberal MP Marco Mendicino — a former federal prosecutor, and until August 2018 the parliamentary secretary to the attorney general — went on CBC later in the day to further rebut the allegation of PMO interference.“Neither directed, nor pressured, nor influenced,” he said. “Insert whatever adjective you want. The attorney general is an office that the prime minister respects, along with the independence of the judiciary, as well as the Prosecution Service.”Trudeau was not in attendance in the House of Commons on Thursday, instead attending scheduled events in Toronto. Wilson-Raybould was present but did not answer any questions — despite numerous questions directed at her by opposition MPs. “The minister will not be commenting on this story today,” her office told the National Post. She had earlier declined to comment to the Globe, saying the matter “is between me and the government as the government’s previous lawyer.”SNC-Lavalin also declined to comment in a statement to the Post.The decision of whether or not to pursue a remediation agreement is made by the Director of the Public Prosecutions, Kathleen Roussel. SNC-Lavalin was informed on Oct. 9, 2018, that it would not be invited to negotiate an agreement, meaning the criminal charges would proceed.Later that month, SNCLavalin applied for judicial review of the decision in Federal Court, arguing Roussel’s refusal to issue an invitation was an “unreasonable exercise of her discretion” and an “incoherent application of the relevant criteria.”The Director of Public Prosecutions has filed a motion to strike SNC-Lavalin’s application on the grounds the court does not have jurisdiction to review the decision. A hearing on the motion to strike took place last week in Montreal; a decision has yet to be announced.Lobbying records show SNC-Lavalin has repeatedly met with the government on the topic of “justice” and “law enforcement” over the past two years, including more than a dozen meetings with Prime Minister’s Office staff. The government held a two-month consultation in the fall of 2017 on remediation agreements, and multiple departments were involved in shaping the policy. The policy was inserted into Bill C-74, a sprawling budget bill introduced on March 27, 2018, and passed into law three months later.Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, said in an interview on Thursday that the policy discussion on remediation agreements was on a “broader scale,” not meant to benefit one specific company.“We engage with companies of all sizes from different regions and we want to hear their concerns, so I have no doubt that that (SNCLavalin) probably raised the issue with my team or my officials,” he said. “But again, our policies are designed to be agnostic to any one sector or any one company.”Last November, former SNC-Lavalin vice-president Normand Morin pleaded guilty to violating Canada’s election finance laws over a scandal that saw the company reimbursing employees for donations to political parties. Of the more than $117,000 in donations, the vast majority was to Liberals, including $83,534 to the Liberal Party of Canada, $13,552 to Liberal riding associations, and $12,529 to Liberal leadership candidates. Less than $10,000 went to the Conservative party and its riding associations.The allegation of political interference in a criminal prosecution is especially explosive because of the Vice Admiral Mark Norman case. Norman’s lawyers are already preparing a motion on abuse of process that will be heard in March, and have alleged in court documents that the prosecution of Norman may have been politically motivated.Norman, the former second-in-command of the Canadian Forces, was charged last year with breach of trust for allegedly leaking cabinet secrets about a $700-million navy supply ship procurement. He has denied wrongdoing, and his supporters argue he was scapegoated after the Liberal government was embarrassed by the leaks.The trial is set for August 2019, but Norman’s lawyers are expected to ask the judge to toss out the case due to political interference and government obstruction over documents Norman needs to defend himself.
Jody Wilson-Raybould was shuffled from Justice to Veterans Affairs, a move that surprised many.
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