OTTAWA—The SNC-Lavalin scandal raises serious legal concerns that border on a “constitutional crisis,” lawyers say, after former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould’s shocking testimony Wednesday.
It’s clear Wilson-Raybould was removed from her position as justice minister for “doing her job,” said Mary-Ellen Turpel-Lafond, a former Saskatchewan provincial court judge who currently teaches and practises law.
“It’s fair to say it’s a constitutional crisis,” Turpel-Lafond said Wednesday night, invoking a term often used to describe the breakdown of the rules underpinning a system of government.
The events, as outlined by Wilson-Raybould in marathon testimony before the House of Commons justice committee, “shake the foundations of our very system,” Turpel-Lafond said.
Wilson-Raybould told MPs she was repeatedly and inappropriately pressured by senior members of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s staff, as well as the country’s top bureaucrat, to cut a deal for SNC-Lavalin to avoid criminal trial on charges of fraud and corruption.
Wilson-Raybould refused, and found herself shuffled to a different cabinet portfolio in January.
Former Ontario attorney general Michael Bryant agreed the scandal amounts to a constitutional crisis, saying Trudeau seems insistent on “interfering with the prosecution.”
“That conflicts with a system that requires independence from political influence. It opens the door to prosecuting enemies of the government and giving immunity to its friends which is despotic,” Bryant, who is now the executive director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, told the Star.
He said the actions of the PMO, as laid out by Wilson-Raybould, undermine public faith in the independence of the judicial process.
In the fallout from Wilson-Raybould’s testimony, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer called on Trudeau and Michael Wernick, the clerk of the privy council, to resign.
Irwin Cotler, a former Liberal attorney general of Canada, said he doesn’t believe Trudeau should step down or that “there was an intent on the part of the government to cross the line.”
“I believe that they felt they were asking her to engage in what they believed was a matter of public policy for the importance of Canada and the importance of Quebec, jobs and the like, which she acknowledged was OK,” Cotler said.
But at a minimum, Turpel-Lafond said the RCMP’s integrity section must investigate, noting that 11 highly placed people in the PMO, the public service and cabinet were named by Wilson-Raybould as lobbying her or her staff on the issue.
“The consequences for that is that our reputation as a nation of the rule of law will be in tatters if we do not take steps,” Turpel-Lafond said.
“And the steps need to be significant, decisive.”
Alex Boutilier is an Ottawa-based reporter covering national politics. Follow him on Twitter: @alexboutilier
Tonda MacCharles is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics. Follow her on Twitter: @tondamacc
Bruce Campion-Smith is an Ottawa-based reporter covering national politics. Follow him on Twitter: @yowflier