Will Justin Trudeau resign as Canadian PM?
Opposition demands Liberal leader stand down over claims of political interference in bribery prosecution
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is rebuffing demands for his resignation over claims that government officials pressured his then-justice minister to help a major company avoid a corruption trial.
In what The Guardian described as a “searing testimony” to a committee in Canada’s House of Commons, Jody Wilson-Raybould described a “consistent, sustained and inappropriate effort” by senior officials close to Trudeau to dissuade her from prosecuting Canadian engineering firm SNC-Lavalin over accusations of fraud and bribery.
The former minister of justice and attorney general said the alleged pressure campaign included “veiled threats” by the officials, who feared the company might cut jobs or move its headquarters out of Quebec if found guilty.
Wilson-Raybould claimed that the head of the federal civil service told her that Trudeau would “find a way to get it done one way or another. So, he is in that kind (of) mood and I wanted you to be aware of that.”
However, under questioning from legislators from the ruling Liberal Party, the former minister said did not feel the pressure exercised on her had crossed the line into illegality.
Earlier this month, Canada’s The Globe and Mail newspaper reported that aides close to the PM had lobbied Wilson-Raybould to pursue a “deferred prosecution agreement” against SNC-Lavalin that would allow the company to escape with a fine. This allegation “forced the resignation of Trudeau’s principal private secretary, Gerald Butts”, reports Reuters.
Wilson-Raybould was demoted unexpectedly in January and resigned from the Cabinet this month. She told the committee that she believes the SNC-Lavalin case prompted her demotion.
Following the hearing, Canadian opposition leader Andrew Scheer called on Trudeau to resign.
“Justin Trudeau simply cannot continue to govern this country now that Canadians know what he has done,” said the Conservative Party leader. “And that is why I am calling on Trudeau to do the right thing and to resign.”
But Trudeau told a press conference in Quebec on Wednesday that he “completely disagrees” with Wilson-Raybould’s characterisation of events.
“I strongly maintain, as I have from the beginning, that I and my staff always acted appropriately and professionally,” he said, adding that Canadians would have their say on his administration in the upcoming federal election, in October.
The scandal “has become the biggest crisis of Trudeau’s administration”, says The Guardian.
SNC-Lavalin, one of the world’s largest engineering and construction companies, is facing fraud and corruption charges in relation to approximately C$48m (£27m) “in bribes it is alleged to have offered to Libyan officials between 2001 and 2011”, reports the BBC.
Preliminary hearings for the charges are currently before the courts. The company says it will “vigorously defend itself” against the allegations.
The row has raised questions about whether the Trudeau government behaved in a way “that was ethically or legally problematic”, says The Globe and Mail. Canadians “have a right to answers” and “if they don’t like them, things could turn out very badly for the Trudeau government”, the newspaper adds.
But Hamish Telford, a political science professor at British Columbia’s University of the Fraser Valley, told Vancouver-based site CityNews that despite Wilson-Raybould’s seemingly damning testimony, Trudeau is likely to continue as usual and wait for the election.
“Maybe Justin Trudeau feels fairly confident that once people are making the choice between him and Andrew Scheer and [New Democratic Party candidate] Jagmeet Singh, that we’ll choose him,” Telford said.