Scheer calls on Trudeau to waive privilege
February 11, 2019 10:33 am
Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer has released an open letter to the prime minister regarding the SNC Lavalin affair.
Last week, the Globe and Mail reported that senior staff in Justin Trudeau's office pressured the former justice minister, Jody Wilson-Raybould, to instruct the Public Prosecution Service of Canada to drop a criminal case against Montreal-based SNC-Lavalin.
The company and two of its subsidiaries were charged in 2015 with bribery of a Libyan official or officials, something that SNC-Lavalin has denied.
In a recent cabinet shuffle, Wilson-Raybould was named minister of veterans affairs, losing the justice portfolio.
She's refused to comment on the Globe and Mail story, citing "solicitor-client privilege" in her former role as the government's chief legal adviser.
Scheer, in his open letter, has demanded that Trudeau "waive solicitor-client privilege in respect of any advice given to you or your staff in relation to the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin".
"Additionally, I call on you to also waive any and all rights to confidentiality in respect of communications to or from yourself or any member of your staff (previous or current) in relation to the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin," Scheer wrote.
This would enable Wilson-Raybould and senior staff in the prime minister's office to answer questions from the Commons justice committee.
Scheer noted that while solicitor-client privilege is important, it "must be subordinated to the higher value: the confidence of Canadians in the integrity, fairness, and impartiality of our criminal justice system".
"You have a duty to restore this confidence through transparency, honesty, and a full-accounting for your actions and those of your staff," Scheer wrote to Trudeau. "If you do not meet this obligation, Canadians can only conclude that there is something you wish to keep hidden."
Near the end of his letter, Scheer pointed out that former prime minister Stephen Harper waived solicitor-client privilege in the investigation of Sen. Mike Duffy and waived cabinet confidence in connection with the trial of Vice Admiral Mark Norman.
Trudeau has insisted that he did not direct Wilson-Raybould in connection with the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin.
One of the journalists who broke the story, Robert Fife, said on CTV Question Period today that he and his colleagues did not state that Trudeau "directed" Wilson-Raybould regarding SNC-Lavalin.
Rather, the newspaper cited anonymous sources saying staff in the prime minister's office pressured Wilson-Raybould in connection with the prosecution.
"The prime minister called 'false' what we never reported," Fife said. "He said that he never directed Jody Wilson-Raybould to intervene in the case of SNC-Lavalin, but we never reported that.
"What we reported was that the prime minister's office had exerted—and attempted to influence her or pressure her—to ask the director of public prosecutions to do a remediation agreement, which is basically a plea agreement, with SNC-Lavalin, which she declined to do," Fife added.
After Wilson-Raybould was transferred from the justice ministry to the ministry of veterans affairs, she posted a statement on her website. It declared that the role of the attorney general of Canada "carries with it unique responsibilities to uphold the rule of law and the administration of justice, and as such demands a measure of principled independence".
"It is a pillar of our democracy that our system of justice be free from even the perception of political interference and uphold the highest levels of public confidence," Wilson-Raybould wrote. "As such, it has always been my view that the Attorney General of Canada must be non-partisan, more transparent in the principles that are the basis of decisions, and, in this respect, always willing to speak truth to power. This is how I served throughout my tenure in that role."