Prime Minister Justin Trudeau suggested today a public inquiry isn’t necessary to get to the bottom of the SNC-Lavalin affair.
Heading into a Liberal national caucus meeting, Trudeau did not rule out an inquiry but said the Commons justice committee is “seized” with the issue and noted the ethics commissioner also has launched an investigation.
“We’ll be hearing from (former justice minister and attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould), we’ll be hearing from experts, we’ll be hearing from a range of people. (The committee) will make the determination as to who it needs to hear from,” he said. “It is important that there be an airing on this situation at the same time as we continue to work on a broad range of big issues that matter.”
MPs will vote later today on an NDP motion to launch a public inquiry into allegations that officials in the Prime Minister’s Office tried to pressure Wilson-Raybould to direct the Public Prosecution Service of Canada to draft a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) — a legal tool resembling a plea deal — for SNC-Lavalin.
That would have allowed the global engineering firm to avoid criminal prosecution on bribery and fraud charges related to contracts in Libya.
Conservatives have said they will support the motion.
Liberal caucus chair Francis Scarpaleggia said he has “a lot of faith” in the justice committee process and doesn’t think a public inquiry is necessary.
“Personally, I don’t see a need for one,” he said.
Asked about the damage the scandal may be doing to the Liberals in an election year, Scarpaleggia said the caucus is “100 per cent” behind the prime minister and is letting the process unfold.
After a two-hour closed door meeting Tuesday, members of the justice committee emerged with a list of witnesses that includes a handful of academics and Justice Minister David Lametti, in addition to Wilson-Raybould.
The hearings were tentatively scheduled to begin this afternoon, but were delayed due to scheduling issues with potential witnesses.
Bound by privilege constraints
It’s still not clear how much Wilson-Raybould will be able to publicly divulge, as she remains bound by client-solicitor privilege. As the former attorney general, she served as the government’s top lawyer.
Today, Wilson-Raybould said she respects the committee process. She also acknowledged that the question of whether her appearance will be meaningful — given the potential limitations on what she can say — is “an appropriate one.”
“I want to be able to ensure that I’m confident in what I can and can’t say,” she said on her way in to the weekly Liberal caucus meeting.
Wilson-Raybould has retained Thomas Cromwell, a retired Supreme Court justice, as her legal counsel.
She quit Trudeau’s cabinet last week — just a week after being demoted to the Veterans Affairs post and just days after the Globe and Mail reported on the allegation of political interference in the SNC-Lavalin criminal case. Today, she said she is unable to explain her resignation due to confidentiality constraints.
Key players not invited to committee
“I know this is frustrating for many people. I’m committed to ensuring that I know what I can and cannot say as I’m getting legal advice around privilege,” she said.
Conservatives and New Democrats have accused the Liberals of blocking key players from appearing before the justice committee — among them Gerry Butts, who suddenly resigned Monday from his position as Trudeau’s top adviser.
Wilson-Raybould surprised many Tuesday when she emerged from the cabinet room in the afternoon after addressing Trudeau and his ministers.
Today, Trudeau said she had made the request to address her former cabinet colleagues.
“I think it’s extremely important that everyone have an opportunity to hear the different perspectives in this situation,” he said.