Keep justice minister and attorney general one role: McLellan report

OTTAWA — The former Liberal cabinet minister tasked with looking into whether the roles of justice minister and attorney general should be separated is recommending no structural changes should be made.

Anne McLellan was enlisted by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to examine the possibility of splitting the two roles in the federal cabinet in light of concerns raised by former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould as part of the SNC-Lavalin affair.

The Prime Minister’s Office released McLellan’s findings Wednesday afternoon, just hours after ethics commissioner Mario Dion’s report concluded that Trudeau violated the Conflict of Interest Act by pressuring Wilson-Raybould to halt the criminal prosecution of the Montreal engineering firm.

In her report, McLellan said she does not believe that splitting the two roles would help to protect prosecutorial independence and promote public confidence in the criminal justice system.

Creating the dual role was a deliberate choice when Canada was formed at Confederation for “good reason.”

“Our system benefits from giving one person responsibility for key elements of the justice system,” McLellan writes.

“That person gains a perspective over the entire system which could not be achieved if the roles were divided — so too do the lawyers and policy experts who work together in the Department of Justice.”

In Canada’s parliamentary system, the justice minister is a political executive who answers to the prime minister, in charge of a federal department with major lawmaking responsibilities. The attorney general is an independent legal officer with final authority on how to handle prosecutions through the Public Prosecution Service of Canada and a duty to keep partisan concerns out of those decisions.

Wilson-Raybould’s position holding both jobs during the SNC-Lavalin affair was a key part of the controversy over whether Trudeau and other senior officials pushed her too hard to help SNC-Lavalin avoid a criminal prosecution over allegedly corrupt business dealings.

In her explosive testimony before the Commons justice committee in March, Wilson-Raybould noted the two roles are separate in the United Kingdom. Both offices are held by politicians but the attorney general doesn’t sit in cabinet. She encouraged government to study the merit of replicating such a system in Canada.

McLellan, however, warned that removing the attorney general from cabinet could affect the credibility and quality of legal advice that person provides to others who sit around the table.

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