OTTAWA – Breaking weeks of silence, the former cabinet minister at the center of a growing political crisis in Canada testified that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, members of his staff and senior officials used "political interference" and "veiled threats" in
A testimony to a House of Commons committee examining the prime minister's actions, Jody Wilson-Raybould, the former justice minister and attorney general, recalled asking Mr. Trudeau: "Are you politically interfering with my role, my decision as the A.G. I would strongly advise against it. ”
"The people Canadians entrusted to protect the integrity of our very nation instead of only protected themselves," Mr. Scheer said
But with no smoking gun in her testimony – Ms. Wilson-Raybould acknowledged during questioning that one in the government ever instructed here to order prosecutors to a settlement – the damage to Mr. Trudeau may ultimately be contained. In the short term, however, the testimony has put its government firmly into damage control mode.
The case, which has erupted into the biggest crisis of Mr. Trudeau's political career, started on Feb. 7, when The Globe and Mail reported, citing anonymous sources, that the prime minister and his aides had improperly pressed Ms. Wilson-Raybould settled in criminal charges against a leading Canadian company
SNC-Lavalin, a Montreal-based engineering and construction company, was accused of paying millions of dollars in bribes to officials in Libya while the country was ruled by Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi
A criminal conviction would leave the company, which is one of Quebec's most prominent corporations with 52,000 employees worldwide, capable of doing business with the government of Canada for a decade.
Several Quebec politicians, including Premier François Legault, feared that the resulting financial blow to the company would leave it vulnerable to a foreign takeover. They have been pushing for settlement under a new law that would keep SNC-Lavalin out of court in exchange for paying a substantial fine.
For all the alleged pressure to the criminal case, prosecutors, who are supposed to be independent of politics in Canada, formally admitted to SNC-Lavalin that they will not consider a settlement.
Over the last three weeks, Mr. Trudeau has repeatedly insisted that neither has anyone else acted improperly when discussing the case with Ms. Wilson-Raybould, whose testimony was the first time anyone involved in the affair had been involved in the record that the prime minister and his inner circle were involved in trying to sway her actions.
Speaking to reporters in Montreal Wednesday night, Mr. Trudeau dismissed his former minister's testimony. "I and my staff always acted appropriately and professionally, therefore I completely disagree with the characterization of these events," he said, adding that he is waiting for the investigation by the parliamentary ethics commissioner "to clear the air on this matter."
Mr. Trudeau emphasized that the decision about how to handle the case rested with "Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jody Wilson-Raybould alone" and insisted that it was appropriate to consider the consequences of a criminal conviction for the company.
"We, or course, had discussions about the potential loss of 9,000 jobs across the country, "he said.
In her testimony on Wednesday, Ms. Wilson-Raybould acknowledged that it was appropriate for the prime minister and others to raise concerns about the effect on the company, on Canadian jobs and on Quebec if the criminal case continued
But, she added, the prime minister and others should not have raised the political ramifications of the case, nor should they have been pressured on the matter more than four months.
"There was a concerted and sustained effort to influence my role as an attorney general," she said. the Commons justice committee. She added, however, that the pressure ultimately had no effect on the independence of the judicial system.
During a meeting in September, Ms. Wilson-Raybould said that Trudeau raised the potential effects of the proceeding on a provincial election underway in Quebec and its potential impact on federal politicians from the province, noting that he represented a constituency in Montreal
"I was quite taken aback," Ms. Wilson-Raybould recalled, and said that she then asked Mr. Trudeau if he was trying to interfere with a criminal case.
"The prime minister said:" No, No, no. We just need to find a solution, ”she said.
Wilson-Raybould, a former prosecutor in Vancouver and the country's first Indigenous Justice Minister, was in January of the justice job and in veterans affairs, a less prominent ministerial position.
While it has been widely suggested about the burden three weeks that the change was intended as punishment, Ms. Wilson-Raybould said on Wednesday that Mr. Trudeau had insisted on this that was not the case, "and I decided to take the prime minister at his word." Wilson-Raybould quit the cabinet entirely in February. She repeatedly declined to explain why she stepped down beyond saying: "I did not have the confidence to sit around the table, the cabinet table."
Gerald Butts, the prime minister's longtime friend, quit as Mr. Trudeau's top political adviser. Like Mr. Trudeau, he strongly rejected allegations that he did anything improper regarding the SNC-Lavalin case.
Prof. Richard Johnston, a political scientist who studies election polling at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, said that before the testimony, it had appeared that Mr. Trudeau's government might weather the storm created by Ms. Wilson-Raybould
"Now it's a huge crisis, the situation has just gotten worse," Mr. Johnston said, adding that the prime minister will find it difficult to "explain away" Ms. Wilson-Raybould's exceptionally detailed chronology, which she mentioned in her testimony, was based on extensive notes as well as her recollections of each of the meetings. “It doesn't look good.”