Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada David Lametti responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons Thursday February 7, 2019 in Ottawa. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld)

Ethics watchdog probes alleged PMO interference in SNC-Lavalin case

Trudeau’s aides are alleged to have lobbied against the public prosecutor pursuing criminal charges

The New Democrats said Monday that federal ethics commissioner Mario Dion is looking into allegations the Prime Minister’s Office improperly tried to help SNC-Lavalin avoid criminal prosecution.

The NDP asked Dion last week to examine whether Justin Trudeau’s aides leaned on former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to have the public prosecutor forge a remediation deal with the engineering firm instead of pursuing bribery and fraud charges.

READ MORE: Opposition parties push for emergency meeting on SNC-Lavalin case

Charlie Angus, the party’s ethics critic, said in a statement that Trudeau promised Canadians he would change the way politics worked in Ottawa, but instead his Liberal government “continues to prioritize helping insiders and the rich get ahead. Canadians deserve better.”

Word of the probe came shortly after a Liberal MP joined opposition calls for a parliamentary investigation into the matter.

New Brunswick MP Wayne Long said in a statement posted to social media that he was “extremely troubled” when the allegation surfaced last week and nothing he has heard since has made him feel less unsettled.

“How the law treats individuals or corporations in our society is not, and should never be, incumbent upon the political pressure they can exert upon politicians,” he said.

Long stressed he’s not “rushing to any judgment” in the matter, but believes “a full and transparent investigation” by the House of Commons justice committee is necessary. For that reason, he said he supports an opposition motion to launch an inquiry.

Conservatives and New Democrats on the justice committee joined forces to get an emergency meeting on Wednesday to consider a motion calling on nine high-ranking government officials to testify, including Wilson-Raybould herself. The list also includes David Lametti, who replaced Wilson-Raybould as attorney general in a January cabinet shuffle, the prime minister’s chief of staff, Katie Telford, and his principal secretary, Gerald Butts.

Lametti, meanwhile, faced a fresh round of questions about the simmering political controversy after speaking to a Canadian Bar Association meeting Monday. However, he emphasized it would be inappropriate to comment on an issue before the courts.

“I’m the attorney general,” he said. “So I’m not going to say anything that could be interpreted in any way, shape or form as compromising that position.”

The Globe and Mail newspaper reported last week that Trudeau’s aides pressed Wilson-Raybould to help avoid a prosecution of SNC-Lavalin on charges stemming from alleged business activities in Libya.

The newspaper said Wilson-Raybould was shuffled to the veterans-affairs portfolio after she refused to get the public prosecutor to negotiate a remediation deal with the company, a means of acknowledging wrongdoing without a criminal conviction.

The Liberal government maintains that while discussions on the matter took place with Wilson-Raybould, she wasn’t pressured or told to issue a directive to the prosecutor.

Trudeau, who is in B.C. on Monday, is also likely to face questions about the nature of those closed-door discussions.

The Canadian Press

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