Trudeau under fire over interference allegations in fraud case

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The federal Conservatives are calling for several senior Trudeau staffers and cabinet ministers to appear before the House justice committee to respond to allegations that the Prime Minister's Office pressured former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to intervene in criminal proceedings against SNC-Lavalin.

They argue the discussions were all perfectly within the law and, indeed, the government would have been remiss not to deliberate over the fate of the Quebec engineering and construction giant given that a prosecution could bankrupt the company and put thousands of Canadians out of work.

In a brief statement to the media, Wilson-Raybould - who is now the Veterans Affairs Minister - says she can't discuss the matter because she is bound by solicitor-client privilege.

Some pretty hefty allegations have come out against the prime minister's office. Months later, Wilson-Raybould was moved to the veterans affairs post in a January cabinet shuffle, and Montrealer David Lametti took over as attorney general and justice minister.

During the heady days of Justin Trudeau's "because it's 2015" declaration, Wilson-Raybould's ascension to the role of the nation's top justice official defined the moment.

As attorney general, Wilson-Raybould could have become involved in the case against the company by directing federal prosecutors to negotiate a "remediation agreement", a way of undoing damage without admitting the company itself was at fault for things particular employees did.

Speaking to reporters in the House of Commons foyer, he said "the Prime Minister himself appears to have fired his own attorney-general for refusing to bow to his demands".

In response, Arif Virani, parliamentary secretary to the justice minister, repeated over and over the same line that has been the Liberals' only response on the matter: "At no point has the current minister of justice or the former minister of justice been directed or pressured by the prime minister or the prime minister's office to make any decision on this or any other matter". If the attorney general directs the Public Prosecution Service of Canada on a case, it gets published publically in the Canada Gazette.

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Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer called The Globe's reporting about pressure exerted by the PMO on Ms. Wilson-Raybould "incredibly disturbing". It would also mean the criminal prosecution against the company would not continue.

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"All this cries out for some serious investigation", he said in a telephone interview from Burnaby, B.C., where he's campaigning for a seat in the House of Commons in a February 25 byelection.

Justice Minister David Lametti speaks during question period in the House of Commons on February 7, 2019. "Tell us what happened, be transparent, invite the ethics commissioner to investigate and tell us that this is not the case or, if it is the case, then there's a serious reckoning that needs to happen".

The relationship between federal prosecutors and the attorney general was reshaped in 2006 with the The Director of Public Prosecutions Act, contained in an accountability bill passed by the Conservative government of the day under Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

He said what has transpired with the SNC Lavalin prosecution and efforts by the company to reach a negotiated settlement should be made public for Canadians.

The fact that such directives must be done publicly would seem to constrain a justice minister from doing anything overtly political.

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