Politics

Trudeau mulls Wilson-Raybould's fate in Liberal caucus as Scheer makes formal bid for RCMP probe

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is considering whether Jody Wilson-Raybould can remain in the Liberal caucus, as the Conservatives make a formal request for the RCMP to launch a criminal investigation.

MPs to hold emergency debate tonight on the former justice minister's testimony

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks to the media at the Canadian Space Agency headquarters in St. Hubert, Que., on Thursday. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he is considering whether Jody Wilson-Raybould can remain in the Liberal caucus, as the Conservatives make a formal request for the RCMP to launch a criminal investigation following her testimony in the SNC-Lavalin affair.

Taking questions from reporters Thursday after an event at the Canadian Space Agency in St. Hubert, Que., Trudeau again took issue with Wilson-Raybould's version of events, and said he was taking time to consider her status.

"I have taken knowledge of her testimony and there are still reflections to have on next steps," he said. 

MPs will hold an emergency debate tonight on Wilson-Raybould's damning testimony before the Commons justice committee, where the former justice minister alleged improper political interference and "veiled threats" by the Prime Minister's Office and government officials. 

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has asked for Trudeau's resignation and for a police investigation. Today, he wrote to the RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki formally requesting an investigation into possible Criminal Code offences related to provoking fear in an attorney general and obstructing or defeating the course of justice.

"She confirmed veiled threats of consequences if she did not bend to the political wishes of the Liberal Party and the financial interests of the shareholders of SNC-Lavalin. It was also clear that these actions rose to the highest ranks of the government," Scheer wrote.

RCMP reviewing request

The RCMP acknowledged receiving the letter and said the commissioner is reviewing it.

Meanwhile, late Thursday, two former federal attorneys general — Peter MacKay, who served in the role under Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and Douglas Grinslade Lewis, who served under Prime Minister Brian Mulroney — penned a letter to the RCMP asking for a police investigation into the matter.

The letter was also signed by three former provincial attorneys general: Jonathan Denis, Progressive Conservative, from Alberta; Cecil Clarke, Progressive Conservative, from Nova Scotia; and Colin Gabelmann, NDP, from British Columbia. 

"We write today to urge you to ensure that you use all resources at your disposal to fully and fairly investigate any potential criminality and provide Canadians with the truth in this crucial matter, as it strikes at the core of the rule of law and independence of our justice system," the letter said.

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NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has called for a public inquiry.

During a raucous question period today, Scheer expressed outrage that Trudeau was not in the House of Commons to answer questions as the controversy rages, calling it "disgusting."

During her committee appearance, Wilson-Raybould offered few details on why she resigned from Trudeau's cabinet.

"I resigned from cabinet because I did not have confidence to sit around the cabinet table, that's why I resigned," she said.

Former Canadian Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould arrives to give her testimony about the SNC-Lavalin affair before the justice committee hearing on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on February 27, 2019. (Lars Hagberg/AFP/Getty Images)

She declined to explain why she quit cabinet or disclose details of her conversations with the prime minister prior to her resignation. But she described experiencing "heightened anxiety" as she waited for the "other shoe to drop." 

She said that one week before a Jan. 14 cabinet shuffle, she received a call from Trudeau advising her she was being moved from the justice portfolio.

"I will not go into details of this call, or subsequent communications about the shuffle, but I will say that I stated I believed the reason was because of the SNC matter. They denied this to be the case," she testified.

Trudeau cites Brison's departure

Today, Trudeau again denied her accusation

"Had [former treasury board president] Scott Brison not stepped down, Jody Wilson-Raybould would still be minister of justice and attorney general of Canada," he said.

Trudeau repeated his line from last night, when he insisted he and his staff acted professionally and appropriately at all times in dealing with Wilson-Raybould and that he completely disagrees with her characterization of events.

He pointed to two processes to get more answers that are now underway, the justice committee investigation and the ethics commissioner's probe.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau said today he never approached Wilson-Raybould about SNC-Lavalin, but his staff "appropriately" reached out to her staff to underscore that job losses and pensions were at stake with her decision.

"My chief of staff's job is to make sure that we engage with other parts of the government to ensure that they understand economic consequences of decisions," he said during a media availability in Toronto.

Wilson-Raybould spoke 'her truth:' Freeland 

Earlier today, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said she believes Jody Wilson-Raybould spoke "her truth" during stunning testimony before the Commons justice committee in Ottawa on Wednesday, but Freeland maintained the prime minister would never exert inappropriate pressure on the former attorney general.

In an interview with CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning on Thursday, Freeland was asked who she believes: Wilson-Raybould or Trudeau.

After Wilson-Raybould delivered a blistering, four-hour account of sustained, intense efforts by the Prime Minister's Office and other government officials that she feels were designed to sway her decision on prosecuting SNC-Lavalin, Trudeau refuted her version of events and insisted he and his staff did nothing wrong.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland says she always considered Jody Wilson-Raybould a 'valued colleague.' (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

"I believe that she spoke, as she said she wanted to do, her truth," Freeland told host Robyn Bresnahan.

"Having said that, I am clearly of the view that the prime minister would never apply improper pressure, that the prime minister has always been clear about the unique role of the attorney general, and would respect that."

SNC-Lavalin had been lobbying for a deferred prosecution agreement to avoid criminal prosecution on bribery charges related to contracts in Libya. A conviction would mean a 10-year ban on bidding for federal procurement projects.

Freeland said she has always considered Wilson-Raybould a valued colleague. She was asked what she thought, as a feminist, about the characterization of Wilson-Raybould as "difficult." 

"I have never found her to be anything other than a thoughtful colleague whose perspective I have valued," she said. "She is a woman of strong views. I like to think that I am too."

'I know her to be a very thorough, meticulous person,' says Min. of Public Works Carla Qualtrough. 7:24

Trudeau apologized to Wilson-Raybould on Feb. 20 for what he called "absolutely unacceptable" comments and cartoons about the former justice minister, saying he wasn't quick enough to condemn them in "unequivocal terms."

Disparaging characterization

He didn't specify which comments inspired his apology.

Recently, The Canadian Press ran a story quoting anonymous sources who described Wilson-Raybould as someone who had "become a thorn in the side of the cabinet" before she was shuffled to Veterans Affairs. She was also described as "someone ... [who] was difficult to get along with, known to berate fellow cabinet ministers openly at the table, and who others felt they had trouble trusting."

Several political cartoonists portrayed Wilson-Raybould bound, gagged and beaten — a reference to her refusing to comment on the scandal publicly because of solicitor-client privilege.

'Play as a united team'

Asked if Wilson-Raybould should remain in the Liberal caucus after delivering the damning testimony, Freeland said caucus is a "broad church" with diverse views. Cabinet and caucus can share and debate them behind closed doors, but must emerge united.

"At the end of the day, when you leave the room, you have to play as a united team," she said. "I feel very strongly about that because I think being united when we left the room has been extremely important for us on issues like NAFTA."

Freeland was also asked if the controversy might affect the consideration of Canada as a "rule of law" country and other cases, such as the extradition proceedings against Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou.

"In the Meng case, our government has been scrupulous," she said. "Decisions that are correctly taken at the official, ie. non-political level have been scrupulously taken at the official, non-political level, and there has been no interference, political element to the decision."

Watch cabinet minister Carla Qualtrough discuss the testimony on Power & Politics

About the Author

Kathleen Harris

Senior Writer

Kathleen Harris is a senior writer in the CBC's Parliament Hill bureau. She covers politics, immigration, justice and corrections.

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