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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says neither he nor his office ever "directed" Jody Wilson-Raybould to intervene in the prosecution of troubled SNC-Lavalin Group, following a report that said his office had pressured her to do so.
Wilson-Raybould, who until recently was Trudeau’s justice minister, "came under heavy pressure" from the Prime Minister's Office to "persuade" the public prosecution service to cut a deal with the Montreal construction company, the Globe and Mail reported Feb. 7.
Such a deal would allow SNC-Lavalin, currently facing charges for corruption and fraud before a court in Montreal, to avoid a criminal trial and instead pay a penalty and take other actions.
“The allegations in the Globe story this morning are false,” Trudeau told reporters Thursday in Vaughan, Ont. “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.”
National Observer has not independently verified the information in the report, which relied on anonymous sources.
Trudeau's response used language that differed slightly from the report, which said unidentified officials from Trudeau’s office had "urged" Wilson-Raybould to press the public prosecution office. PMO media relations had also used the term "directed" in an earlier response to the report.
However during Question Period later on Thursday, Wilson-Raybould’s replacement, Justice Minister David Lametti, expanded on the government's denial to say that neither Trudeau nor the PMO put Wilson-Raybould or himself "under pressure nor gave any directives."
The report said Wilson-Raybould had "trusted the judgment of the public prosecutor," who had "refused to negotiate" a deal with the company. The minister thought it was not proper for the attorney-general to intervene, "especially if there could be any suggestion of political interference."
Last month, Wilson-Raybould was shuffled out from justice, one of the top ministerial positions in government that she had held since 2015, to veterans affairs.
She later issued a statement stressing the importance of having an attorney general who is "non-partisan" and that it was "a pillar of our democracy that our system of justice be free from even the perception of political interference."
Scheer accuses Liberals of a coverup
During Question Period, Lametti fended off attack after attack about the report from opposition MPs who were furious at what they saw as mistreatment of the former attorney general.
Chief opposition whip and Conservative MP Mark Strahl read out a large portion of Wilson-Raybould’s “political interference” post on the House of Commons floor.
"Those are the words and principles of the former attorney general," he thundered. "Why did the prime minister fire her for refusing to break them?"
Others implied Wilson-Raybould was an innocent victim of a too-cozy government-corporate relationship. “Was she fired because, at the end of the day, a friend’s a friend?” wondered NDP parliamentary leader Guy Caron.
Lametti stood and answered every question concerning the report. “Neither the prime minister nor his office put my predecessor or myself under pressure nor gave any directives,” he said.
"As the attorney general of Canada, I am the chief legal officer of the Crown and have the responsibility to give legal advice to the government in the public interest. I take these responsibilities very seriously."
Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer wasn't convinced. “It’s quite clear that we’re seeing the beginnings of a coverup here,” he said.
“The former attorney general prided herself on speaking truth to power. She spoke truth to power behind closed doors and the prime minister fired her."
In a statement, Scheer also hinted, without invoking his name, that Trudeau had acted like U.S. President Donald Trump. “We have seen this elsewhere on the world stage, when leaders dismiss their attorneys general for defying their orders," he stated.
Trump fired his acting attorney general Sally Yates in 2017 for refusing to enforce a White House order banning travel from Muslim-majority countries.
Editor's note: This story was updated at 3:45 p.m. Eastern on Feb. 7 to include responses to the report by Trudeau, Strahl, Scheer and Caron.