Montreal

Quebec's justice minister says Jody Wilson-Raybould's allegations raise 'troubling' questions

Jody Wilson-Raybould's explosive testimony has divided provincial politicians in Quebec, with some calling her allegations "troubling" and others expressing concern for the corporation at the heart of the scandal, SNC-Lavalin.

But Premier François Legault remains concerned about potential job losses and a takeover of SNC-Lavalin

Jody Wilson-Raybould told the Commons justice committee Wednesday that she faced 'veiled threats' from the Prime Minister's Office this fall to ensure the Montreal-based company avoided prosecution on bribery and corruption charges. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Jody Wilson-Raybould's explosive testimony has divided provincial politicians in Quebec, with some calling her allegations "troubling" and others expressing concern for the corporation at the heart of the scandal, SNC-Lavalin.

The former federal justice minister told the Commons justice committee yesterday that she faced "veiled threats" from the Prime Minister's Office this fall to ensure the Montreal-based company avoided prosecution on bribery and corruption charges.

In her testimony, Wilson-Raybould said officials repeatedly invoked potential job losses, and the context of the recent Quebec election, as reasons for offering a deferred prosecution agreement to SNC-Lavalin.

Premier François Legault, whose Coalition Avenir Québec party swept to power in that election, reiterated Thursday his support for an out-of-court settlement.

Legault campaigned on a promise to do more to keep Quebec companies from leaving the province. Since the election, he has said repeatedly that a protracted court case could make SNC-Lavalin vulnerable to a foreign takeover. 

"There was already a risk. Is the risk heightened now? Yes," Legault told reporters in Quebec City. "The company currently has no controlling shareholder."

Premier François Legault reiterated on Thursday his support for an out-of-court settlement. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

But Legault's own justice minister, former anti-corruption prosecutor Sonia Lebel, said her main concern was Wilson-Raybould's allegations of political interference. 

"If what was said is true, it's troubling because we have to put our institutions [first], to protect them, and make sure there is no undue pressure," Lebel said.

"What is troubling is that it may have happened."

Lebel pledged to never interfere with the decisions of the provincial prosecutors working under her. Court documents indicate they too could be called upon soon to decide whether to prosecute SNC-Lavalin.

The RCMP is working with the Quebec Crown in an ongoing investigation into a bribery scandal at the Federal Bridge Corporation. 

Michel Fournier, the former head of the bridge corporation, pleaded guilty in 2017 to receiving $2.3 million from an SNC subsidiary between 2001 and 2003. Fournier admitted that, in exchange, he helped SNC-Lavalin secure a $127-million contract to refurbish Montreal's Jacques Cartier Bridge.

"I have no intention whatsoever to intervene in this matter," Lebel said. "The rule of law is very important and we all live under it."

'Why should I not believe her​?'

Wilson-Raybould's testimony also elicited mixed reactions on the other side of the aisle. At least two Liberal MNAs pointed out that the federal Liberal Party is a separate entity from its provincial namesake. 

"Why should I not believe her," said Marwah Rizqy, who represents the Montreal riding of Saint-Laurent and who ran unsuccessfully for the federal Liberals in the 2015 election. 

"If she said she faced pressure, then now the prime minister of Canada has to answer for that."

'Why should I not believe her?' asked Marwah Rizqy, a Liberal MNA who ran unsuccessfully for the federal Liberals in the 2015 election. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

Her colleague Gaétan Barrette, though, sounded more sympathetic to Justin Trudeau's position.

"I can say one thing: If I would have been in his place, the issue of maintaining those jobs would have been very significant for me," said Barrette, a cabinet minister in the last Liberal government.

He also pointed out that Wilson-Raybould herself said nothing illegal had been done, a detail he felt was being lost amid the controversy.

"What I'm disappointed with today is that we're not seeing things from that angle — the legality of the process," Barrette said.

With files from Cathy Senay in Quebec City

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