The House of Commons justice committee will begin hearings today into allegations concerning the Prime Minister’s Office. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Hearings into SNC-Lavalin affair start today, but not with Wilson-Raybould

OTTAWA — The House of Commons justice committee will begin hearings today into the allegation that the Prime Minister’s Office improperly pressured former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to help Montreal engineering giant SNC-Lavalin avoid criminal prosecution.

Wilson-Raybould herself has been invited to testify, but likely won’t appear until Monday and, even then, it’s unclear if she’ll have much to say.

She has repeatedly cited solicitor-client privilege to refuse all comment on the affair since the allegation from anonymous sources first surfaced in a Globe and Mail report almost two weeks ago.

The Liberal-dominated committee wants to hear first from academics about the legal principles underpinning the affair, which prompted Wilson-Raybould’s resignation from cabinet last week and the departure this week of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s most trusted aide, principal secretary Gerald Butts.

Those principles include the recently adopted legal provision allowing for remediation agreements in corporate corruption cases, a form of plea bargain in which a company pays restitution but avoids a criminal conviction that could bankrupt it.

They also include the so-called Shawcross doctrine that spells out the degree to which an attorney general may consult with cabinet colleagues about a prosecution.

Opposition members of the justice committee maintain the hearings will be meaningless unless Trudeau waives solicitor-client privilege to allow Wilson-Raybould to speak freely and unless senior officials in his office, including Butts, are called to testify.

MPs are also scheduled to vote today on a non-binding NDP motion calling for a public inquiry into the affair and the waiving of solicitor-client privilege.

Conservative senators, meanwhile, have also introduced their own motion calling for an inquiry by the Senate’s legal and constitutional affairs committee.

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