‘A travesty’: Wilson-Raybould to testify, but not Butts
OTTAWA • Liberal MPs on the Commons justice committee have blocked an effort to have Prime Minister’s Office staff testify on the scandal surrounding former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould.The committee will hear from Wilson-Raybould herself, but it voted down a motion to call on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to waive solicitor-client privilege. That means Wilson-Raybould may decline to answer most questions.“I’m deeply, deeply disappointed in what happened here today,” NDP MP Murray Rankin said after the meeting.“The justice committee, I think, owes it to Canadians to study this. It’s fundamental to our democracy, and frankly what happened there was a travesty.”The decisions were made during an in-camera meeting on Tuesday afternoon, meaning it was closed to the public and details about the deliberations are secret.Liberal MPs said eight witnesses have been invited, including some law professors — Craig Forcese and Adam Dodek from the University of Ottawa were mentioned — to explain the legal issues, such as the constitutional principle that attorneys general are not subjected to political pressure when it comes to criminal prosecutions.The committee had earlier adopted a Liberal motion to invite three other witnesses: David Lametti, the current justice minister and attorney general; Nathalie Drouin, the deputy justice minister and deputy attorney general; and Michael Wernick, the clerk of the privy council.The Globe and Mail has alleged, citing confidential sources, that Wilson-Raybould was pressured by Prime Minister’s Office staff to drop the corruption case against SNC-Lavalin in favour of a remediation agreement — a compliance agreement that would see the company pay a fine and admit wrongdoing but avoid a potential criminal conviction.Wilson-Raybould resigned from cabinet last week and has retained legal counsel to determine how much she’s allowed to say due to the fact that as attorney general, she was the government’s legal adviser and the discussions may be covered by solicitor-client privilege.Trudeau’s top political aide, Gerald Butts, resigned on Monday, saying he did not want the scandal to take away from “the vital work” of the prime minister.He called the allegation false. “I categorically deny the accusation that I or anyone else in (the PMO) pressured Ms. Wilson-Raybould,” he said in a statement.The Commons committee, however, will not hear from Butts after the Liberals blocked the opposition’s motion to invite him.“I’m very disappointed that we’re not going to be hearing from anybody within the Prime Minister’s Office whatsoever,” said Conservative MP Lisa Raitt. “Especially given that Mr. Butts yesterday gave a blanket denial. Surely he must be tested on his denial that he gave so freely yesterday.”The Senate, meanwhile, is considering its own investigation. Unlike the Commons, where the committee initiates its own study, the full chamber of 105 senators must decide whether its legal and constitutional affairs committee will take up a study of the issue.Larry Smith, the Conservative leader in the Senate, gave notice of motion on Tuesday to have a vote on whether the committee should start a study. The motion names 10 potential witnesses, including Trudeau, Wilson-Raybould, Butts and other key players.Serge Joyal, the Liberal independent senator who chairs the committee, told the National Post he plans to vote in favour of the motion.“I think we are very well equipped to discuss that, and the implications that are raised in the present situation,” he said.“I will vote in favour of the motion, personally. We are the committee that did the study of that issue already.”He said there is not yet enough information to know whether Wilson-Raybould was unduly pressured by anyone in the Prime Minister’s Office, but said the overall issue of keeping the criminal justice system insulated from politics is very important to him.“Once the court has pronounced, the vast majority of Canadians accept those decisions and they obey it,” he said. “But they obey it because they trust the system.“So the trust of the system is fundamental to our democracy. That’s essentially how I see this situation,” said Joyal.
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