Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer asked Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to resign on Wednesday following former Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould’s testimony that she was improperly pressured to grant favorable treatment to engineering company SNC-Lavalin.
Opposition leader Scheer issued a statement calling for Trudeau’s resignation shortly after Wilson-Raybould delivered her testimony to the House of Commons.
“Justin Trudeau simply cannot continue to govern this great nation now that Canadians know what he has done,” Scheer wrote.
“That is why I am calling on Justin Trudeau to resign,” he continued. “Further, the RCMP must immediately open an investigation – if it has not already done so – into the numerous examples of obstruction of justice the former Attorney General detailed in her testimony.”
The Toronto Sun agreed on Wednesday that the SNC-Lavalin case is now a matter for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
“After the first minute of Jody Wilson-Raybould’s testimony, it was already clear that this was a colossal bombshell,” the Sun editorialized, presenting the former justice minister’s opening statement as a concise summary of the case:
She began her opening remarks: “For a period of approximately four months between September and December 2018, I experienced a consistent and sustained effort by many people within the government to seek to politically interfere in the exercise of prosecutorial discretion in my role as the Attorney General of Canada in an inappropriate effort to secure a Deferred Prosecution Agreement with SNC-Lavalin.
“These events involved 11 people (excluding myself and my political staff) – from the Prime Minister’s Office, the Privy Council Office, and the Office of the Minister of Finance. This included in-person conversations, telephone calls, emails, and text messages. There were approximately 10 phone calls and 10 meetings specifically about SNC-Lavalin that I and/or my staff was a part of.”
That in itself was damning enough. Then Wilson-Raybould went on in detail to explain how she had repeatedly told these senior figures to not pressure her, that she had made up her mind, and that she thought the pressure was inappropriate. But they kept on doing it.
Wilson-Raybould testified that there was a “barrage of people hounding me and my staff” to avoid a criminal trial for SNC-Lavalin, including Prime Minister Trudeau and his senior aides. She said these people not only warned her about the dire consequences of a prosecution, including jobs lost for SNC-Lavalin employees and political fallout for the Liberal Party, but issued “veiled threats if a deferred prosecution agreement was not made available to SNC.”
Wilson-Raybould said she was ultimately pushed out of her position to make room for a more pliable justice minister. She said SNC-Lavalin was made the first order of business for her successor, David Lametti, in one of his first meetings with Trudeau.
SNC-Lavalin, one of the largest engineering firms in the world, was investigated for fraud and corruption due to its business practices in Libya, which was one of the company’s largest clients under dictator Muammar Qaddafi. The company was accused of paying millions of dollars in bribes to secure business deals during the ten years before Qaddafi was overthrown in 2011. The company argues the wrongdoing was entirely the work of a single rogue executive named Riadh Ben Aissa.
If SNC-Lavalin as a whole is convicted on corruption charges, the company would be banned from bidding on Canadian federal contracts for ten years. Trudeau has publicly worried such a penalty could severely damage the company and eliminate a large number of jobs. He denies improperly pressuring Wilson-Raybould to avoid prosecution.
Trudeau’s principal secretary, Gerald Butts, resigned over the scandal two weeks ago, claiming he was innocent of wrongdoing but did not wish to bring further negative attention to the prime minister’s office.
Former Ontario Attorney General Michael Bryant, director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, told the Globe and Mail on Thursday the testimony from Wilson-Raybould “disclosed a constitutional crisis far worse than what I envisioned.”
“She says it was a bald attempt by the Prime Minister to exercise his cabinet-making power over her quasi-judicial authority. I am personally very familiar with the tactic, but have never seen evidence of it used on an attorney-general in this brazen, reckless fashion,” he said.
Another former attorney general, Geoff Plant, found it deeply “problematic” that pressure against Wilson-Raybould continued after she clearly stated she did not support a deferred prosecution agreement for SNC-Lavalin.
“This observation crosses the line between inquiries that relate to the public interest, which are legitimate, and partisan political considerations, which are not. She was right to say that this was inappropriate. The fact that this consideration was raised again and again is very disturbing,” he said, citing the importance of maintaining political independence for prosecutors.
Trudeau’s defenders essentially argue his concerns about crippling the huge engineering company with a corruption prosecution were valid, and while he and his aides may have vigorously communicated that argument to the justice minister, their actions came up short of improper political interference.
Scheer completely rejected that reasoning in his statement on Wednesday, saying Trudeau has “lost the moral authority to govern.”
Regarding Trudeau, he said:
A Prime Minister who allows his partisan political motivations to overrule his duty to uphold the rule of law. A Prime Minister who doesn’t know where the Liberal Party ends and where the Government of Canada begins. And a Prime Minister who has allowed a systemic culture of corruption to take root in his office and those of his most senior cabinet and public service colleagues.
“As Ms. Wilson-Raybould has so clearly articulated, the people Canadians entrusted to protect the integrity of our very nation were instead only protecting themselves and their friends. Mr. Trudeau can no longer, in good standing and with a clear conscience, lead this great nation,” he contended.
Writing at Maclean’s on Wednesday, Paul Wells called Trudeau a “moral catastrophe” and said he was running a “sickeningly smug protection racket” for the Liberal Party’s allies.
“If a company can rewrite the Criminal Code to get out of a trial whose start date was set before the legislation was drafted, all because a doomed Quebec government has its appointment with the voter, then which excesses are not permitted, under the same justification?” he asked, referring to the elections looming when the SNC-Lavalin scandal began.
Trudeau said on Wednesday that he has no intention of resigning and suggested voters should have the final judgment on his actions in the October election.
“There will be a clear choice to be made between the Liberal Party, this government that … has consistently stood up for Canadian jobs, consistently defended Canadian jobs while defending our institutions and the independence of our judiciary,” he said, as quoted by the Calgary Herald. He continued, “And on the other hand there is a choice of the party that is still very much the party of Stephen Harper, that continues to attack, to divide, to play politics with big issues and (thinks) the best way to create economic growth is still to give advantages to the wealthiest.”
Stephen Harper was the previous prime minister of Canada.