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Trudeau cabinet minister resigns amid SNC-Lavalin controversy

Trudeau cabinet minister resigns amid SNC-Lavalin controversy
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OTTAWA—Jody Wilson-Raybould has quit Justin Trudeau’s cabinet amid an uproar over whether she faced political pressure to drop a contentious prosecution of SNC-Lavalin.

After days of remaining silent, the former justice minister said she has hired a lawyer - a former Supreme Court of Canada judge - to advise her on what she can now say about the most serious controversy to confront the Trudeau government.

Wilson-Raybould said she was resigning “with a heavy heart” but in a letter to the prime minister, she did not specifically offer reasons why she was quitting.

Her stunning resignation Tuesday morning comes a day after a federal ethics probe was opened into allegations the Trudeau PMO pressured the former minister - allegations the PMO has denied.

Just the day before, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declared he had “full confidence” in his former justice minister, and admitted that while he spoke to her last fall about the SNC-Lavalin prosecution, he claimed she “confirmed” he had never personally pressured her.

In a statement Tuesday, Wilson-Raybould said she tendered her resignation as minister of veteran affairs, the post where Trudeau had installed after shuffling her out as attorney general and justice minister in January, but she was not quitting as Vancouver-Granville MP.

Wilson-Raybould is at the centre of a political storm after the Globe and Mail reported last week officials in Trudeau’s office tried to pressure her to cut a deal for SNC-Lavalin that would spare it criminal prosecution on charges of bribery and fraud.

Opposition MPs charge that Wilson-Raybould was bumped from the justice post because she resisted that pressure.

Trudeau suggested Monday that Wilson-Raybould’s continued presence in cabinet was a signal that she was not unhappy with the government.

“In our system of government of course her presence in cabinet should speak for itself,” the prime minister said.

He said he continued to have “full confidence” in her.

But Wilson-Raybould was conspicuous by her absence at Trudeau’s Vancouver event Monday. And has refused all comment on the SNC-Lavalin affair, neither confirming nor denying the allegations, saying that she had to respect solicitor-client privilege.

Now Wilson-Raybould said she has hired former Supreme Court of Canada justice Thomas Cromwell to advise her on how much she can say “on the topics that I am legally permitted to discuss in this matter.”

Cromwell told the Star Tuesday he would make no comment or do any interviews on the matter.

Opposition Conservatives and New Democrats are pressing for the Commons justice committee — which meets Wednesday — to conduct an inquiry into the affair.

Federal ethics commissioner Mario Dion launched an investigation into questions swirling around what pressure was brought to bear on her. In his letter replying to two NDP MPs who complained, Dion admitted there was reason to believe that section 9 of the ethics act may have been breached. That section bars public office holders from seeking to influence a decision of another person to improperly further another person’s private interests.

SNC-Lavalin has heavily lobbied federal officials, in its efforts to force the director of public prosecutions to strike a mediation agreement that would allow the Quebec engineering and construction giant to agree to a fine and strict corporate reforms while avoiding a possible criminal conviction at trial — one that could bar it from bidding on federal government contracts.

In her resignation letter, Wilson-Raybould said entered politics “with the goal of implementing a positive and progressive vision of change on behalf of all Canadians and a different way of doing politics.”
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