OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau welcomed Monday an investigation by the federal ethics commissioner into an allegation that his office pressured former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to help SNC-Lavalin avoid criminal prosecution.
And while she has fuelled the controversy by refusing to comment on the allegation, Trudeau said he continues to have “full confidence” in Wilson-Raybould, whom he moved to the veterans affairs portfolio in January.
Moreover, he appeared to suggest she would have resigned from cabinet had she felt she’d been improperly pressured.
“In our system of government, of course, her presence in cabinet should actually speak for itself,” he said following a housing announcement in Vancouver.
The issue has been dogging Trudeau since last Thursday, when the Globe and Mail, citing anonymous sources, said the Prime Minister’s Office leaned heavily on Wilson-Raybould to instruct the director of public prosecutions, as allowed by law, to negotiate a remediation agreement with SNC-Lavalin. That would have allowed the Quebec-based engineering giant to pay reparations but avoid a criminal trial on charges of corruption and bribery in relation to its efforts to win government contracts in Libya.
On Monday, ethics commissioner Mario Dion announced that he has launched an investigation into the allegation, saying he has “reason to believe” there may have been a possible violation of Section 9 of the Conflict of Interest Act. Section 9 prohibits a public-office holder from seeking to influence a decision so as to improperly further another person’s private interests.
“We welcome the ethics commissioner’s investigation,” Trudeau said. ”This is an issue that has been much talked about over the last few days and I think it’s extremely important that Canadians can continue to have confidence in our system.”
Wilson-Raybould was not among the British Columbia Liberal MPs who attended multiple events with Trudeau in the Vancouver area. But the prime minister said he’d met with her a couple of times since arriving in her hometown on Sunday and said he continues to have “full confidence” in her.
Trudeau said he respects Wilson-Raybould’s view that she can’t comment on the controversy due to solicitor-client privilege — an issue he said is complicated and on which he’s asked David Lametti, Wilson-Raybould’s replacement as justice minister and attorney general, for advice.
In the meantime, he said Wilson-Raybould “confirmed for me a conversation we had this fall where I told her directly that any decisions on matters involving the director of public prosecutions were hers alone.”
But Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said it’s “imperative” that Trudeau waive solicitor-client privilege and let Wilson-Raybould speak freely.
“I think it’s time for Justin Trudeau to stop speaking for Jody Wilson-Raybould and let her speak for herself,” Scheer told a news conference in Fredericton, N.B.
“If he’s innocent, if he has nothing to hide, he should waive this immediately.”