OTTAWA—The federal ethics commissioner has launched an investigation into allegations that former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould was pressured by the prime minister’s office to seek mediation instead of pursuing criminal charges against Quebec construction giant, SNC-Lavalin.
Mario Dion, the conflict of interest and ethics commissioner, confirmed in a letter to two NDP MPs that he would probe allegations that became public last week.
In his letter, Dion says that based on the complaint by the two MPs, media reports and other information, he has “reason to believe” that a possible contravention of section 9 of the Conflict of Interest Act has occurred.
That section prohibits a public office holder from seeking to influence a decision of another person to improperly further another person’s private interests.
In their complaint to Dion’s office, NDP MPs Charlie Angus and Nathan Cullen alleged that the prime minister may have pressured Wilson-Raybould to negotiate what is known as a deferred prosecution agreement with SNC-Lavalin.
That agreement would allow SNC-Lavalin to avoid a criminal conviction that would cost it future government contracts.
The two MPs had sought an ethics probe under the section of the act that prohibits a public office holder from giving preferential treatment to any person or any organization.
In his response, Dion said he didn’t see justification to launch an investigation under that part of the act but did see merit for a probe on other grounds.
Cullen said in an interview that the ethics commissioner’s acknowledgment there is something to be probed shows the need for the justice committee to also do its own inquiry.
He said Dion can only look into ethical violations and has a limited range of sanctions, but the justice committee can subpoena witnesses and get to the bottom of whether there was any undue influence or obstruction of justice. And Cullen said he is not ruling out the possibility that an RCMP investigation might be warranted, though the NDP has not made a complaint to the Mounties.
Cullen criticized Justice Minister David Lametti for suggesting in a CTV interview that he saw nothing for the justice committee to look into, even as he admitted he had not talked to his predecessor about what pressure if any she felt.
“This hear-no-evil, see-no-evil by the top prosecutor is incredibly disturbing to me,” he said.
Cullen said Lametti’s comments may have been aimed at pressuring Liberal MPs to block the justice committee from an inquiry into the affair, and he suggested it “has all the makings of a cover-up.”
But he insisted the committee had powers to get at the truth.
“Until solicitor-client privilege is waived and we hear from Jody Wilson-Raybould, we are going to have to hear under oath from other participants in those conversations.”
“There’s clearly something of substance (to study). The ethics commissioner doesn’t go around investigating without there being something to look at especially when it involves the prime minister.”
Bruce Campion-Smith is an Ottawa-based reporter covering national politics. Follow him on Twitter: @yowflierAlex Ballingall is an Ottawa-based reporter covering national politics. Follow him on Twitter: @aballinga