Canada's Trudeau dismisses ex-minister's allegations of inappropriate pressure


OTTAWA - Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, facing the biggest crisis of his tenure, disputed testimony on Wednesday from his former justice minister that government officials inappropriately pressured her to help a major firm avoid a corruption trial.

On Wednesday, the same day that Wilson-Raybould testified before the parliamentary Justice Committee about the events that preceded her move from attorney general to the veterans affairs portfolio, Wilson again had strong words for Trudeau, accusing him of "retreating into a corner" after the prime minister said he was "definitely not in agreement" with the former minister's account of events.

"I strongly maintain, as I have from the beginning that I and my staff always acted appropriately and professionally", he said.

He said he will review all of Wilson-Raybould's testimony before deciding whether she can remain in the Liberal caucus or seek re-election this fall as a Liberal candidate.

Asked if she has confidence in Trudeau, Wilson-Raybould paused for some time and did not say yes.

"I'm not sure how that question is relevant", she said when asked by a Liberal colleague if she still has confidence in the prime minister.

SNC-Lavalin was accused of issuing $48 million in bribes to Libyan officials in the decade leading up to the NATO-led overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi's government in 2011.

"I experienced a consistent and sustained effort by many people within the government to seek to politically interfere in the exercise of prosecutorial discretion in my role as the attorney general of Canada in an inappropriate effort", she said in her opening statement.

He also welcomed the investigation of the ethics commissioner while he rejected calls by the leader of the opposition Conservative Party to resign, saying Canadians will have a choice later this year in parliamentary elections.

During her appearance before the committee, she said there was a several-month-long effort from 11 key government officials to secure the DPA for SNC-Lavalin, but she refused to direct the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) to not proceed with a trial.

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"Like you, I was sickened and appalled by her story of inappropriate and, frankly, bordering on illegal pressure".

In her testimony, Wilson-Raybould described a September 17 meeting with Trudeau and Michael Wernick, Canada's top bureaucrat. That is why I am calling on Justin Trudeau to resign.

The Globe and Mail newspaper, which broke the story, said Ms Wilson-Raybould had resisted pressure to let SNC-Lavalin off with a fine.

Trudeau said the decision on whether to forgo prosecution and enter a plea agreement with the company was hers and hers alone. She said Trudeau said, "No, no, no, we just need to find a solution".

"Justin Trudeau simply can not continue to govern this country now that Canadians know what he has done", Scheer said. "I completely disagree with the characterization of the former attorney general about these events".

Gerald Butts, Trudeau's closet adviser, resigned last week but denied that he or anyone else pressured Wilson-Raybould.

Despite these warnings, Wilson-Raybould said she continued to face "extraordinary pressure, which "raises serious red flags in (her) view".

But she also noted that the clerk of the Privy Council Office, Michael Wernick, the country's top public servant, was crossing the line in a conversation when he repeatedly invoked the prime minister's name and his concerns about her position not to intervene.

Wilson-Raybould said pressure was exerted on her or her staff by 10 other people in the Prime Minister's Office and the finance minister's office through approximately 10 phone calls, 10 meetings and numerous emails and text messages.

"We of course had discussions about the potential loss of 9,000 jobs in communities across the country, including the potential impact on pensions". I find it hard for me to believe he could respond in that kind of a manner.