AL­LE­GA­TIONS OF COVERUP

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Lib­er­als faced ac­cu­sa­tions of a coverup Wed­nes­day af­ter they agreed to hold lim­ited com­mit­tee hear­ings into an al­le­ga­tion that former at­tor­ney gen­eral Jody Wil­son-Ray­bould was im­prop­erly pres­sured to help SNCLavalin avoid crim­i­nal pros­e­cu­tion.Con­ser­va­tive MP Michael Cooper said the Lib­er­als were at­tempt­ing to cre­ate “a di­ver­sion” in­stead of hold­ing a proper in­ves­ti­ga­tion.The ac­cu­sa­tion was launched as Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau is fac­ing a back­lash within and out­side his own party af­ter Wil­son-Ray­bould’s sud­den res­ig­na­tion from his cabi­net.Trudeau’s own MPs are ner­vous, won­der­ing about go­ing into an elec­tion cam­paign with this saga hang­ing over them and con­cerned about a lack of com­mu­ni­ca­tion from the Prime Min­is­ter’s Of­fice.“I’m hear­ing from sev­eral MPs they aren’t happy with com­mu­ni­ca­tions in gen­eral,” said Greg MacEach­ern, a se­nior vice-pres­i­dent at Proof Strate­gies and a former Lib­eral staffer when Paul Martin was prime min­is­ter.Mean­while, Trudeau’s re­peated claims that Canada’s re­la­tion­ship with In­dige­nous Peo­ples is the most im­por­tant one this coun­try has are be­ing called into ques­tion as In­dige­nous lead­ers line up be­hind Wil­son-Ray­bould and de­cry crit­i­cism of her as racist and sex­ist.“It’s a heavy blow to see how she has been treated,” said Ch­eryl Casimer, po­lit­i­cal ex­ec­u­tive for the First Na­tions Sum­mit, a group that in­cludes most Bri­tish Columbia First Na­tions and tribal coun­cils.Union of B.C. In­dian Chiefs Grand Chief Ste­wart Phillip said a “smear cam­paign” ini­ti­ated in Ot­tawa against Wil­son-Ray­bould has an­gered In­dige­nous peo­ple across the coun­try.“Ev­ery­one within the In­dige­nous com­mu­nity, rank and file, grass­roots, in every sin­gle com­mu­nity, Face­book, so­cial me­dia, ev­ery­one is talk­ing about how up­set and an­gry they are at the prime min­is­ter’s cal­lous dis­missal of such a committed, ded­i­cated and principled per­son such as Jody Wil­son-Ray­bould,” Phillip said.The prime min­is­ter, mean­while, was stick­ing to his mes­sage that Wil­son-Ray­bould had a duty to speak up months ago if she had con­cerns about the way the govern­ment was han­dling the SNCLavalin case.At a short ap­pear­ance in Sud­bury, Ont., Trudeau dodged a ques­tion about what rea­son Wil­son-Ray­bould gave about why she re­signed from cabi­net, leav­ing the mi­cro­phone rather than an­swer­ing.In Ot­tawa, the SNCLavalin con­tro­versy shifted to the House of Com­mons jus­tice com­mit­tee, where MPs had to de­cide whether to in­ves­ti­gate the al­le­ga­tions of un­due po­lit­i­cal arm-twist­ing.De­spite hopes that the com­mit­tee would be able to hold a non-par­ti­san in­quiry, it quickly split along party lines.The Lib­er­als ap­proved their own mo­tion with a shortlist of three pro­posed wit­nesses that did not even in­clude Wil­son-Ray­bould.Lib­er­als want to hear from cur­rent Jus­tice Min­is­ter David Lametti, clerk of the Privy Coun­cil Michael Wer­nick and the deputy jus­tice min­is­ter, Nathalie Drouin — al­though more could be added next week af­ter get­ting le­gal ad­vice, be­hind closed doors, on what steps the com­mit­tee needs to take to avoid in­ter­fer­ing with two on­go­ing court cases in­volv­ing SNC-Lavalin.The five Lib­eral MPs on the jus­tice com­mit­tee used their ma­jor­ity to block an op­po­si­tion mo­tion that would have seen the com­mit­tee hear from nine key play­ers in the con­tro­versy, in­clud­ing Wil­son-Ray­bould, Lametti, Wer­nick and se­nior aides in Trudeau’s of­fice, in­clud­ing chief of staff Katie Telford and prin­ci­pal sec­re­tary Ger­ald Butts.The Lib­er­als de­feated an at­tempt by New Demo­crat MP Nathan Cullen to strike a com­pro­mise of six wit­nesses, adding Butts and two other se­nior PMO aides who were heav­ily in­volved in the SNCLavalin file.They also de­feated a Con­ser­va­tive mo­tion call­ing on Trudeau to im­me­di­ately waive so­lic­i­tor-client priv­i­lege, which Wil­son-Ray­bould has cited as pre­vent­ing her from com­ment­ing on the al­le­ga­tion.The Lib­eral mo­tion calls on the com­mit­tee to study the le­gal prin­ci­ples at the root of the con­tro­versy — in­clud­ing the re­cently added Crim­i­nal Code pro­vi­sion that made it le­gal to ne­go­ti­ate re­me­di­a­tion agree­ments in cases of cor­po­rate cor­rup­tion, a form of plea bar­gain in which a com­pany pays resti­tu­tion, but avoids crim­i­nal pros­e­cu­tion that could bank­rupt it.The mo­tion also in­cluded look­ing at the so-called Shawcross doc­trine, which spells out the de­gree to which an at­tor­ney gen­eral may con­sult with cabi­net col­leagues about a pros­e­cu­tion.“That is not an in­ves­ti­ga­tion, that is sim­ply go­ing through the mo­tions,” Cullen said af­ter the meet­ing, ac­cus­ing the Lib­er­als of “battening down the hatches” to pre­vent any truth from com­ing to light.“Lib­er­als seem to think that this should be just a sort of study group, a book club to look at all sorts of in­ter­est­ing ideas about the law rather than the scan­dal that’s right in front of Cana­di­ans.”Cooper said, “At the end of the day, this is re­ally not that com­pli­cated. This is about the fact that cer­tain of­fi­cials in the PMO were al­leged to have put pres­sure on the former at­tor­ney gen­eral to in­ter­fere in a crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion, noth­ing more, noth­ing less ... The Lib­er­als aren’t in­ter­ested in that. They’re in­ter­ested in cov­er­ing this up.”Lib­eral MP Randy Bois- son­nault, who pro­posed the suc­cess­ful mo­tion, de­fended the Lib­er­als’ re­fusal to call Wil­son-Ray­bould to hear her side of the story. He said she’s bound by a rule that pro­hibits a former min­is­ter from com­ment­ing on her pre­vi­ous port­fo­lio and by so­lic­i­tor-client priv­i­lege, not­ing that Wil­son-Ray­bould has hired a former Supreme Court jus­tice to ad­vise her on what she can say.“I think it’s im­por­tant for Ms. Wil­son-Ray­bould to speak to Cana­di­ans on her own terms. It doesn’t need to be some­thing we do here at the jus­tice com­mit­tee,” he said.Wil­son-Ray­bould was de­moted to the vet­er­ans af­fairs post in a Jan­uary cabi­net shuf­fle. A Globe and Mail re­port, at­trib­uted to un­named sources, last week al­leged the PMO leaned on her in­struct the di­rec­tor of pub­lic pros­e­cu­tions to ne­go­ti­ate a re­me­di­a­tion agree­ment with SNC-Lavalin rather than see the com­pany go to court on charges of brib­ing Libyan of­fi­cials.Trudeau has de­nied any im­proper pres­sure was put on Wil­son-Ray­bould and main­tains she never men­tioned any con­cern about that to him.Prior to the com­mit­tee meet­ing, Raitt said if Lib­er­als be­lieve Trudeau, they should sup­port “with­out hes­i­ta­tion” the op­po­si­tion mo­tion for a full in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the af­fair.“But if they de­feat or they wa­ter it down in any way, it is noth­ing less than an ad­mis­sion of guilt.”Con­ser­va­tive Leader An­drew Scheer, who is tour­ing New Brunswick, re­peated the same mes­sage a short time later. He ac­cused Trudeau of “try­ing to paint him­self as the vic­tim in all of this,” while “pub­licly im­pugn­ing (Wil­son-Ray­bould’s) char­ac­ter in a way that pre­vents her from speak­ing for her­self.”LIB­ER­ALS SEEM TO THINK THAT THIS SHOULD BE JUST A STUDY GROUP, A BOOK CLUB.

Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau vis­its Sud­bury, Ont., Wed­nes­day, where he con­tin­ued to say that Jody Wil­son-Ray­bould failed in her duty to speak out about the SNC-Lavalin case.

Chair An­thony House­fa­ther ar­rives at the House jus­tice com­mit­tee Wed­nes­day, which moved to limit wit­nesses, and not hear from Jody Wil­son-Ray­bould or the PMO.

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