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MPs demand to let Jody Wilson-Raybould return gets cut off by Liberals at justice committee

MPs  demand to let Jody Wilson-Raybould return gets cut off by Liberals at justice committee
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OTTAWA—The Liberal majority on the House of Commons justice committee voted to cut off the emergency meeting Wednesday, where opposition MPs called for Jody Wilson-Raybould to return to testify about the SNC-Lavalin controversy .

Liberal MP Francis Drouin intervened about 20 minutes into the meeting, and the majority of Liberal MPs agree with him to adjourn the meeting to discuss future witnesses on March 19, the same day the Liberal government will table its pre-election budget.

Former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould arrives to give her testimony about the SNC-Lavalin affair before a justice committee hearing on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Feb. 27, 2019. Efforts to have her return to the speak before the committee have been put off by Liberals on the committee.  (LARS HAGBERG / AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

Opposition MPs on the committee erupted in protests. Conservative MP Michael Cooper yelled “cover up!” and NDP MP Peter Julian told the Liberal members that their vote to delay the consideration of witnesses is “disgusting.”

The committee last met March 6 , when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s former principal secretary Gerald Butts denied he or anyone in the Prime Minister’s Office put Wilson-Raybould under inappropriate pressure to halt the SNC-Lavalin prosecution.

He also suggested her version of events — detailed over almost four hours of testimony at the committee Feb. 27 — was coloured by how she was unhappy about being bumped from her “dream job” as justice minister and attorney general when Trudeau shuffled his cabinet in January.

The committee also heard from Privy Council Clerk Michael Wernick and Nathalie Drouin, the deputy justice minister and attorney general, on March 6. Both were appearing for the second time, after they were invited to respond to Wilson-Raybould’s stunning testinomy at the committee in February.

Federal Court ruling underscores independence of attorney general and prosecution decisions

At the end of the March 6 meeting, New Democrat MP Murray Rankin proposed a motion that would have the committee call on Trudeau to further waive legal limits that Wilson-Raybould has said prevented her from speaking publicly about the SNC-Lavalin affair. Rankin and Conservative members of the committee also wanted to invite Wilson-Raybould back to testify, along with her former chief of staff Jessica Prince and officials in the PMO accused of pressuring the former attorney general: Trudeau’s chief of staff Katie Telford and senior advisers Elder Marques and Mathieu Bouchard.

The Liberals on the committee, however, voted down the motion and said they would discuss bringing future witnesses to the committee at its next meeting, which was scheduled for March 19 — the same day the Trudeau government is slated to table its pre-election budget in the House of Commons.

The schedule changed when the Conservatives and New Democrat on the committee called for the emergency session that was held Wednesday.

Speaking to reporters before the meeting, Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre accused Trudeau of preventing Wilson-Raybould from telling her full story. When she testified last month, Wilson-Raybould said she can’t speak about anything that happened after she was shuffled from her post as justice minister and attorney general. She would not discuss anything that happened when she was veterans affairs minister, or why she resigned from cabinet after Trudeau suggested her presence at the table signalled her confidence in his Liberal government.

“They banned her about telling the part about why she resigned,” Poilievre said. “We know something egregious must have happened causing the former attorney general to resign from cabinet. But we don’t know what they were because the prime minister won’t let her speak.”

The controversy involving Wilson-Raybould and the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin has consumed federal politics for five weeks. The former justice minister has accused Trudeau and his top officials of a “consistent and sustained” effort to convince her to overrule Canada’s top federal prosecutor and stop the criminal trial against the Montreal-based company, which is accused of fraud and bribery of officials in Libya between 2001 and 2011, when the dictator Moammar Gadhafi was in power.

Her successor as justice minister, Montreal MP David Lametti, has not ruled out doing what Wilson-Raybould refused: offering SNC-Lavalin a “deferred prosecution agreement.” Such a deal would see the company admit to wrongdoing, agree to co-operate with authorities, pay a fine and agree to oversight of its ethical compliance.

Trudeau, Butts and Wernick have said they only raised the issue with Wilson-Raybould out of concern for the almost 9,000 Canadians who work for SNC-Lavalin. They said they worried about the economic impact of a criminal conviction, because it could bar the company from lucrative government contracts for 10 years.

The multibillion dollar corporation works in more than 50 countries, but reaped 31 per cent of its 2017 revenue from its operations in Canada. The company will not say what portion of that comes from federal contracts.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has called on Trudeau to resign, arguing Wilson-Raybould’s story shows he has lost the moral authority to govern. He has also asked the RCMP to investigate whether the prime minister broke the law by pressing the former attorney general on the SNC-Lavalin case.

The NDP and Green party have called for a public inquiry, while the House of Commons conflict of interest commissioner is investigating whether parliamentary rules were broken.
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