Trudeau denies claim PMO pressured AG to drop SNC-Lavalin case

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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.

On the day Wilson-Raybould was shuffled out of her twin role as justice minister and attorney general, she penned an unprecedented, lengthy missive defending her performance in the job.

Was the PMO applying pressure on the Attorney General in an attempt to influence the minister to persuade her prosecutors to move away from the pursuit of criminal corruption and fraud prosecution against worldwide and Montreal-based engineering giant SNC-Lavelin, opting instead for remediation.

Wilson-Raybould says she can not discuss allegations that she was pressured by the Prime Minister's Office to help SNC-Lavalin avoid a criminal prosecution.

"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", Trudeau said on Thursday.

The federal director of public prosecutions told SNC-Lavalin in October that negotiating a remediation agreement would be inappropriate in this particular case. Chief Executive Officer Neil Bruce said in December that the impasse over the case cost the company more than $5 billion in lost contracts.

SNC-Lavalin has taken out newspaper ads and heavily lobbied ministers, government officials and even Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh to make its case for avoiding a prosecution.

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 holding an organization to account for wrongdoing without a formal finding of guilt.

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He said requesting that the officials appear at committee is his party's next step because it can happen immediately, though they have also begun exploring other "legal avenues". "The Prime Minister has made a very clear decision to completely abandon the reconciliation agenda in favour of supporting business and industry", Grand Chief Stewart Phillip said of the move.

The SNC Lavalin affair dominated the House of Commons question period on Thursday.

"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.

As to whether Wilson-Raybould is truly bound to secrecy on this by solicitor-client privilege, as she insists she is, it is hard to say for certain without knowing exactly what she discussed with the Prime Minister's Office.

The federal director of public prosecutions is officially asking a court to toss out a plea from SNC-Lavalin to spare the company from criminal proceedings. Three months later, Wilson-Raybould was moved to the veterans affairs post, a move widely seen as a demotion.

That left her successor at Justice, Lametti, to fend off opposition charges on Thursday of political interference in the justice system. Moreover, as justice minister, Wilson-Raybould was responsible for a 2018 Criminal Code amendment at the heart of the current controversy - which specifically allowed for what's known as deferred prosecutions or remediation agreements to be negotiated rather than pursue criminal prosecutions against corporations.

When asked about any conversations with Ms. Wilson-Raybould about the SNC-Lavalin prosecution, Mr. Trudeau would only say "we have a tremendous, positive working relationship with all members of our cabinet".

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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