Liberals questioned over claim PMO pressed AG to drop SNC-Lavalin case, Trudeau denies

OTTAWA -- Questions over whether Prime Minister Justin Trudeau or anyone in his office "directed" Canada's former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould to abandon the prosecution of a case against SNC-Lavalin dominated question period on Thursday, following a denial from the prime minister.

The Globe and Mail has reported that the Prime Minister's Office tried to get Wilson-Raybould -- who was also the federal attorney general at the time -- to ask prosecutors to make a deal in the corruption and fraud case against the Quebec-based engineering and construction company.

According to the Globe, Wilson-Raybould was unwilling to play along and did not follow through despite the high-level pressure.

CTV News has not independently verified the story.

Trudeau has flatly denied the allegations.

 "The allegations in the Globe story this morning are false. Neither the current nor the previous attorney general was ever directed by me or anyone in my office to take a decision in this matter," the prime minister said Thursday morning in Vaughan, Ont.

The bombshell report prompted intense backlash in the House of Commons on Thursday. The Conservatives framed Wilson-Raybould’s move to minister of veterans affairs as a demotion for not following the PMO’s orders, while the NDP said the Globe’s report proves that the Liberals offer special treatment to their wealthy friends.

Reacting to the prime minister’s comments and the report, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said the allegations in the story are "incredibly shocking," and said Trudeau’s "carefully crafted" answers so far, fall short.

"If he continues to fail to be transparent with Canadians, Conservatives will make every effort and explore every option to make sure Justin Trudeau and his office are held accountable," Scheer said.

"We knew the Trudeau Liberals were willing to do shady things to help their ultra-rich friends -- but this is something else. Mr. Trudeau needs to explain who authorized attempts to pressure the former attorney general to let SNC-Lavalin off the hook," tweeted NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh.

The Tory leader, members of his caucus, and NDP MPs all pressed the government about the report during question period.

The charges the company is facing were the result of an RCMP probe into SNC-Lavalin allegedly paying millions in bribes to Libyan public officials.

The prime minister was not in Ottawa to respond to the allegations. Taking the questions in Trudeau’s absence was Canada's current Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Quebec MP David Lametti. He was appointed to cabinet in January in a shuffle that saw Wilson-Raybould moved into the Veterans' Affairs portfolio.

Repeatedly, Lametti called the report "false" and denied that he has at any time been "directed or pressured" by Trudeau or his office.

NDP MP Nathan Cullen called the government’s repeated response a "carefully crafted denial that isn't a denial at all."

Raitt: ‘Big trouble coming’ if allegations are true

Speaking on CTV’s Power Play, Conservative MP Lisa Raitt said that Trudeau should “come clean” on exactly what happened. She added that if the allegations are true, the fallout would be “deadly.”

“If they did it, they’ve got big trouble coming,” she said. “I think this is an absolute sign of political interference.”

Liberal MP Kim Rudd defended the government’s response and described Lametti’s words in the House of Commons as “very clear.”

“He said that there was no direction nor was there any pressure. So it has become a war of words, if you will, about picking and choosing and picking apart,” Rudd said.

Rudd also rejected characterizations that Wilson-Raybould was demoted. She called Veterans Affairs “a portfolio that is so important to our government.”

“You use the term ‘firing.’ I use the term, ‘being moved to a portfolio’ – because Scott Brison resigned, of course, that’s why there was a shuffle,” she said.

Rudd added that, based on Wilson-Raybould’s activity on Twitter and Facebook, she’s clearly “engaged” with her new job.

“If you look at her social media from the day she was appointed, she has taken that on with vim and vigor.”

NDP MP Alexandre Boulerice called the Globe’s report “credible journalistic work” and echoed Singh’s accusation of the Liberals appeasing their rich associates.

“I think it shows a real face of the Liberals and their millionaire friends,” Boulerice said.

Ontario’s former AG: ‘I would’ve called 911’

Ontario’s former attorney general Michael Bryant, who now serves as executive director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, said that the Globe’s report details “the kind of allegation that can lead to criminal investigations.”

“If it had happened when I was attorney general, I would’ve called 911,” Bryant told CTV’s Power Play.

With a federal election coming later this year, Bryant said the situation is particularly complicated. He called on the attorney general and solicitor general to reassure the public that there isn’t “one justice system for the folks on Parliament Hill and then one justice system for everybody else.”

“It’ll be their job to show complete transparency,” he said.

The Attorney General of Canada has the ability to become involved in cases such as the SNC-Lavalin case by instructing federal prosecutors to pursue a "remediation agreement" rather than a criminal prosecution. These agreements can include having the company accept responsibility, denounce the wrongdoing, vow to implement corrective measures, and pay financial penalties.

If Wilson-Raybould had intervened and asked federal prosecutors to cut a deal in the case, such a move would’ve become public. If the attorney general directs the Public Prosecution Service of Canada on a case, it gets published publically in the Canada Gazette.

The governing Liberals amended the Criminal Code as part of an omnibus budget implementation bill in 2018 to allow these kinds of agreements. Ahead of the legislative change, The Canadian Press reported that the government considered it a tool to hold companies accountable. In its reporting, it was noted that this law change could help SNC-Lavalin. 

The Globe and Mail has reported—citing sources speaking on condition of anonymity— that Wilson-Raybould was leaned on to have federal prosecutors pursue the remediation agreement but she was unwilling. The report also noted a number of registered meetings in which SNC-Lavalin lobbied high-level members of Trudeau's office and parliamentarians on the topics of "justice" and "law enforcement."

In a lengthy post about leaving the justice department that Wilson-Raybould made the day of the shuffle, she stated "it is a pillar of our democracy that our system of justice be free from even the perception of political interference and uphold the highest levels of public confidence."

CTV News has asked Jody Wilson-Raybould for comment on the story and her office said she will not be commenting today.