OTTAWA — Canada's attorney general told a room full of lawyers Monday that he would not weigh in on the current SNC-Lavalin scandal unfurling before the Liberal government.
But in remarks to the Canadian Bar Associations' annual meeting, David Lametti outlined how his unique job and roles differ from other ministers around the cabinet table.
"There is a line that cannot be crossed: telling the attorney general what a decision ought to be. That would be interference," Lametti explained.
"And at the end of the day, I abide by the longstanding principle that when acting as attorney general I will apply my judicial mind to a decision, and not my political mind."
Watch: Attorney general addresses the 'great deal of commentary' in the news
It's been nearly a month since Lametti was shuffled into the role of justice minister and attorney general. His predecessor, Jody Wilson-Raybould, was moved to veterans affairs. Her apparent demotion spurred questions about what she did to deserve the change in portfolio.
The Globe and Mail reported bombshell allegations last week that the Prime Minister's Office tried to influence Wilson-Raybould to intervene in a case involving SNC-Lavalin to negotiate a remediation agreement. The prime minister has called the allegations "false."
The Montreal-based engineering and construction company is facing criminal charges for allegedly paying millions in bribes to secure government contracts in Libya.
A corruption conviction for the company carries a possible 10-year ban on bidding for lucrative federal contracts in Canada — a scenario that could lead to significant layoffs.
Lametti did not give a clear answer when asked by reporters if he's been in contact with his predecessor since the controversy erupted. He did not give any indication if SNC-Lavalin has come up in talks during the transition of power.
"As attorney general of Canada, I'm not going to comment on that," he said
He also didn't confirm or deny that his office is considering a deferred-prosecution agreement for SNC-Lavalin, which would hold off criminal charges.
Wilson-Raybould has been keeping a low profile since the allegations broke. On Friday, she issued a statement to explain her silence on the subject.
"As the former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, I am bound by solicitor-client privilege in this matter," she said.
The ethical restriction prompted Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer to write a letter asking the prime minister to release his former attorney general from solicitor-client privilege. He acknowledged that solicitor-client privilege and the duty of confidentiality are "important values" in Canada's legal system.
"But in the present situation, they must be subordinated to a higher value: the confidence of Canadians in the integrity, fairness and impartiality of our criminal justice system," Scheer wrote.
Both the Conservatives and NDP want the matter investigated by the House of Commons justice committee. At an emergency meeting Wednesday, MPs will vote on a motion calling for nine government officials, including Wilson-Raybould and senior PMO staff, to testify about the allegations.
Pardon me if I don't take Justin Trudeau's word.Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer
During an interview on CTV's Question Period that aired Saturday, Lametti dismissed the claims of political interference as "allegations in a newspaper." He said the lack of "corroborating evidence" doesn't merit a committee investigation in his opinion.
Speaking to media in Fredericton, N.B. Monday, Scheer referenced Lametti's CTV comments.
The Tory leader brought up the prime minister's "illegal" vacation at the Aga Khan's residence that violated multiple conflict laws. He also brought up former fisheries minister Dominic LeBlanc, who was found in conflict of interest when his department awarded contracts to members of his wife's family.
"Pardon me if I don't take Justin Trudeau's word," Scheer said of the prime minister's assertions that the allegations of political interference in the SNC-Lavalin case are false.
Wilson-Raybould's presence in cabinet should 'speak for itself': PM
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters in Vancouver that he's asked Lametti to advise him on the "complex matter" of solicitor-client privilege.
Trudeau, who arrived in the Lower Mainland Sunday to campaign with the Liberal candidate in Burnaby South byelection campaign, said he's already met with Wilson-Raybould "a couple of times." Wilson-Raybould represents the British Columbia riding of Vancouver Granville.
The prime minister said Wilson-Raybould reminded him of a conversation they had in the fall where he told her that "any decisions on matters involving the director of public prosecutions were hers alone."
According to The Globe and Mail, the director of public prosecutions refused to negotiate a remediation agreement with SNC-Lavalin related to the corruption charges.
Trudeau also tried to put rumours of bad blood between him and Wilson-Raybould to rest by saying he had full confidence in his minister. "In our system of government, of course, her presence in cabinet should actually speak for itself," he said.
The federal ethics commissioner announced Monday that it will launch an examination of an NDP complaint of alleged political interference between the PMO and former attorney general. When asked about the probe, Trudeau said he welcomed the investigation.
"This is an issue that has been much-talked about in the last few days. And I think it's extremely important that Canadians can continue to have confidence in our system," he said.