Ex-aide to Canada PM denies pressuring former minister over SNC-Lavalin

Muriel Colon
March 7, 2019

Former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould resigned from Trudeau's cabinet in mid-February and has alleged that Trudeau and his staff subjected her to relentless pressure to help Montreal engineering firm SNC-Lavalin avoid a criminal prosecution on bribery and fraud charges.

The two senior bureaucrats testified two weeks ago, but that was before Wilson-Raybould accused Wernick, clerk of the Privy Council, of issuing veiled threats that she would lose her post as justice minister and attorney general if she didn't intervene in the SNC-Lavalin case.

Rather, Liberal members of the House of Commons justice committee voted to reconvene behind closed doors on March 19 - the day the federal government will table its budget - to consider whether they will invite Ms. Wilson-Raybould and other senior government officials to testify.

Butts chose to wear a crossed miner's pick and shovel and in his testimony drew parallels between events during his childhood in Cape Breton, where coal-mining was once dominant, and the potential outcome in the wake of a prosecution against SNC-Lavalin. Treasury Board President Jane Philpott was one of the most respected members of government, and political observers described her departure as a major blow.

He disputed the contention of Wilson-Raybould, Canada's first indigenous Attorney-General and justice minister, that she was moved to a new portfolio over her refusal to take action in the case.

Butts also said the December 18 meeting was not urgent and that all Prince was told was that he couldn't see how seeking advice from someone like former Supreme Court chief justice Beverley McLachlin constituted political interference.

He resigned from Trudeau's office last month, insisting neither he nor anyone else in the Prime Minister's Office had done anything wrong, but said he didn't want to be a distraction from the government's work.

"I am firmly convinced that nothing happened here beyond the normal operations of government", Butts said.

On Wilson-Raybould: "She was always the decision maker and she was always assured she was the final decision maker".

SNC-Lavalin openly lobbied the Canadian government for an out-of-court settlement that would mean paying a fine and agreeing to compliance measures. Speaking in Longueuil, Que., on Tuesday, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said the prime minister has her confidence, adding she appreciates the prime minister sees her family - she has three children - as an advantage rather than an problem. "The Attorney General could have spoken or written to the Prime Minister at any time during this process to say attempts to contact her office on the meeting were improper and they should cease immediately".

He'll be followed in the afternoon by the top federal public servant, Michael Wernick, and the deputy minister of justice, Nathalie Drouin, both of whom figured prominently in former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould's explosive testimony last week.

Canadian leader Justin Trudeau's ex-right hand man defended him in parliament on Wednesday over accusations of meddling in the prosecution of a corporate giant that have plunged the prime minister into his worst crisis in office.

Wilson-Raybould was totally the decider.

Trudeau is scheduled to speak again to reporters on Thursday morning, to offer his thoughts on what Butts said. He walked the committee through the chronology she presented last week: that she learned of the DPP decision on Sept. 4, while she was out of the country, then she returned on Sept. 12 and her mind was made up by Sept. 16. They came from members of Canada's largest opposition party, the Conservatives, but also from lawmakers representing Trudeau's Liberal Party and two influential left-of-center parties, the New Democratic Party and the Greens.

"I take my fair share of responsibility for that tragic state of affairs".

"I will note, as I indicated at the time, my statement to the committee was not a complete account but only a detailed summary".

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