POLITICS
02/15/2019 12:25 EST | Updated 02/16/2019 00:07 EST

Trudeau Says Wilson-Raybould Asked ‘If I Was Directing Her’ On SNC-Lavalin

PM suggested the former attorney general lost her job because Scott Brison quit his.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visits BlackBerry QNX Headquarters in Ottawa on Feb. 15, 2019.
Sean Kilpatrick/CP
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visits BlackBerry QNX Headquarters in Ottawa on Feb. 15, 2019.

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau revealed Friday that his former attorney general had asked him if he was pressuring her to make a specific decision on SNC-Lavalin.

"Jody Wilson-Raybould asked me if I was directing her or going to direct her to take a particular decision and I, of course, said, 'no,'" he told reporters, adding it was her decision to make. "I had full confidence in her role as attorney general to make the decision."

When asked if the interaction could have been interpreted differently by her, the prime minister said that if the former attorney general had felt any "undue pressure," it was her responsibility to come forward with her concerns.

Watch: Prime minister says government respected rule of law on SNC-Lavalin

The prime minister sidestepped questions asking what preference he expressed to Wilson-Raybould. He cited cabinet confidentiality and solidarity "kicks in" in regard to those discussions.

Trudeau made the comments following a funding announcement to support autonomous vehicle technology at BlackBerry's headquarters in Kanata, Ont.

The prime minister has been under scrutiny since Wilson-Raybould resigned from cabinet Tuesday. She had been serving as minister of veterans affairs for less than a month.

Wilson-Raybould served as justice minister and attorney general for three years until she was shuffled out of the role last month. She was the first Indigenous person appointed to the position.

The press conference was to announce a $350-million joint investment by BlackBerry and the federal government that would create 1,000 co-op placements and 800 new jobs. But most of the questions focused on why Wilson-Raybould lost hers and if it was related to SNC-Lavalin.

The Canadian Press
Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould talks with media in Ottawa on June 6, 2017.

The Quebec engineering and construction firm is facing bribery and fraud charges. A conviction would come with a 10-year ban on bidding for federal projects, possibly jeopardizing more than 4,000 jobs across the country.

Unnamed sources reported in The Globe and Mail last week allege Wilson-Raybould was pressured by the Prime Minister's Office to ditch prosecution in favour of remediation.

The director of public prosecution, who is the country's deputy attorney general, refused to negotiate a remediation agreement with SNC-Lavalin in October.

Trudeau has called the allegations "false."

Brison resignation triggered shuffle: PM

Wilson-Raybould's resignation from cabinet came less than a day after the prime minister assured Canadians that her continued presence in his inner circle "should actually speak for itself."

National Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan was tapped to immediately fill the role of veterans affairs minister.

When asked what reasons the Vancouver Granville MP gave for her decision to step down from cabinet, Trudeau brought up his former Treasury Board president, Scott Brison.

"If Scott Brison had not stepped down from cabinet, Jody Wilson-Raybould would still be minister of justice and attorney general," he said.

Brison, a longtime MP who represented the Nova Scotia riding of Kings-Hants, resigned from political life last month saying he wanted to spend more time with his young family.

His husband Max St-Pierre responded to Trudeau's comments, suggesting they have something in common.

Wilson-Raybould has not responded publicly to Trudeau's version of the facts or the allegations reported in the Globe.

Her resignation letter indicates she has hired former Supreme Court justice Thomas Cromwell to advise her on what she is "legally permitted" to say.

The federal ethics watchdog launched an examination this week into the allegations of political interference.

Conservatives pressed the House of Commons justice committee to call nine witnesses to testify, including Wilson-Raybould and senior PMO staff. But Liberal MPs on the committee thwarted that bid on Wednesday.

Instead, the committee will embark on a diluted study exploring the same claims of political interference. They are expected to hear from legal experts on what the Shawcross doctrine is — rules that delineate what is considered political advice and "direction" for the attorney general.

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