Attorney General David Lametti says he will resist any attempt to pressure him on the SNC-Lavalin criminal prosecution.
Lametti is now in the hot seat on the court case that has rocked the Liberal government, resulting in the resignations of two cabinet ministers, the prime minister’s most trusted adviser and the country’s top civil servant.
The director of public prosecutions decided last fall not to negotiate a deferred-prosecution agreement with SNC-Lavalin, which is facing charges of bribery over its work in Libya between 2001 and 2011. Former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould says she was inappropriately pressured by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his senior staff to overrule that decision.
She believes she was shuffled out as justice minister and attorney general in January because she would not intervene, though the prime minister denies that had anything to do with her move.
Wilson-Raybould resigned from cabinet altogether Feb. 12, a day after Trudeau said her continued presence there, several days after her concerns about interference were first reported, spoke to her support for and confidence in the government.
However it is now alleged Wilson-Raybould set several conditions for her to remain in cabinet, including the firings of both Trudeau’s principal secretary Gerald Butts and Privy Council clerk Michael Wernick, the country’s top public servant.
Unidentified sources tell both the Toronto Star newspaper and CBC News that Wilson-Raybould also wanted a commitment Lametti would not step in to negotiate a remediation agreement with SNC-Lavalin.
Wilson-Raybould hasn’t responded to a request for comment on the claims.
Trudeau said he wouldn’t discuss a private conversation publicly, but acknowledged there was some sort of back and forth at play.
“We worked very hard to try to find some way to move forward together,” he said.
On his way into question period Thursday, where the SNC-Lavalin saga dominated the House of Commons again, Lametti said if that conversation happened between Wilson-Raybould and Trudeau, Lametti was unaware of it.
That said, Lametti added he will not allow anyone to direct his decision on the matter one way or the other.
“The prime minister has never tried to direct me,” said Lametti. ”If someone else tries to direct me then they’ll hear about it.”
He said he wouldn’t comment on the details of the SNC-Lavalin case, but said he did receive “routine briefings” on the file when he became the minister. His spokesman confirmed to The Canadian Press that those briefings included a breakfast meeting with some of Trudeau’s aides where the discussion was largely based on the contents of the departmental briefing book prepared for Lametti.
That book discusses remediation agreements in general but makes no specific mention of the SNC-Lavalin case. It does say the application of a remediation agreement “to any particular case is a matter of independent prosecutorial discretion.”
Trudeau said Thursday he respects that Wilson-Raybould felt he and his staff were interfering with that discretion but that “I disagree.”
“I think it’s the job of a government to continue to look for ways to try and protect Canadians and their work,” he said.
Trudeau has said repeatedly that any conversations with Wilson-Raybould about the SNC-Lavalin case involving his aides came because the government was concerned that prosecuting the company would endanger many of the 9,000 SNC jobs in Canada, a fear backed up by a presentation the company prepared for government officials in September.
Liberal MP Wayne Easter, who said he doesn’t think any of the conversations between Wilson-Raybould and Trudeau, Wernick or Trudeau’s staff put any inappropriate pressure on her, also said the commitment Wilson-Raybould reportedly wanted from Trudeau, that her successor would not arrange a deal for SNC-Lavalin, would have been inappropriate interference.
“What she is basically saying is the prime minister should order the new attorney general to do such-and-such on SNC-Lavalin,” he said. “Isn’t that a contradiction and that does shock me.”
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh rejected that interpretation of the conversation, arguing this is “another attempt to smear Ms. Wilson-Raybould.”
He said all she was doing was telling Trudeau and his office not to interfere.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer agreed, saying he doesn’t put much faith in the leaked conditions, but that the Lametti condition sounds more like she just wanted a commitment that the prime minister would not interfere in this case at all.
Trudeau removed both Wilson-Raybould and former Treasury Board President Jane Philpott from the Liberal caucus Tuesday night, saying the breakdown in trust between them and the rest of the caucus, and their inability to express confidence in the government, left him no choice.
In a long interview on CBC Radio Thursday morning, Philpott said she was “stunned” by the decision and felt she had not been given an opportunity to explain her decision to resign from cabinet to either Trudeau or the caucus.
Philpott also said that if Trudeau had just admitted mistakes had been made and apologized for making Wilson-Raybould feel pressured, all could have been forgiven.
Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press