OTTAWA—Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer says if elected, he would immediately launch a judicial inquiry into Justin Trudeau’s actions in the SNC-Lavalin prosecution and make it easier for the RCMP to ask the Supreme Court of Canada for Trudeau’s cabinet secrets.
Scheer appeared in Trudeau’s own riding of Papineau in Montreal, and repeatedly accused Trudeau of lying and corruption. He said it was “ultimately up to the RCMP to decide” if any crime was committed, but then the Conservative leader went on to say he believes that “each time a politician tries to interfere in a judicial inquiry, it’s corruption.”
Scheer cited the finding of the federal ethics watchdog that Trudeau breached ethics rules in intervening to have his attorney general settle criminal charges against SNC-Lavalin.
“When a politician uses the power of his position to interfere in a criminal process, that hindered the independence of our legal system, that is a corrupt act, yes, absolutely,” said Scheer.
“Mr. Trudeau you are unfit to lead,” Scheer said, in the most direct condemnation out of the mouth of any of the federal leaders towards their rivals in the campaign.
To facilitate the RCMP’s probe of the SNC-Lavalin affair, Scheer said he would pass “a No-More-Coverups Act to prevent corrupt politicians like Justin Trudeau from hiding behind cabinet confidentiality to escape police investigation.”
“Cabinet confidentiality exists to protect sensitive matters of policy in order to create good policy. It doesn’t exist to protect corrupt leaders,” he told reporters. “That is why in the most serious criminal cases, we will allow the RCMP to ask the Supreme Court of Canada to rule on the disclosure of evidence. No longer will a corrupt prime minister be able to be the gatekeeper of his own crimes.”
However Paul Cavalluzzo, an Ontario lawyer who served as commission counsel to Justice Dennis O’Connor on two judicial inquiries, said Scheer’s suggestion is “absolutely not” the right way to use inquiries or the courts.
Cavalluzzo advised O’Connor in a provincially-named inquiry into the deaths of seven people in the tainted water scandal at Walkerton, and a federal inquiry into the role played by Canadian security officials in the post-9/11 Syrian jailing and torture ordeal of Canadian Maher Arar. The latter inquiry led the Stephen Harper government to pay $10 million in compensation to Arar and his family.
“In respect of calling for a judicial inquiry in the midst of an election campaign, that’s very very dangerous,” said Cavalluzzo.
“You shouldn’t be politicizing questions of whether you have a public inquiry because they’re too important an institution like obviously Scheer is doing right now. That’s number one.
“Number two…anything that a witness says during a public inquiry is protected under s. 13 of the Charter,” and cannot be used against the witness in other legal proceedings, he said.
Cavalluzzo said a witness at a public inquiry may be compelled to give evidence that could guide the RCMP in pursuing evidence against others. But he said investigations are best left to the police.
“If you want to lay charges, you don’t use a public inquiry to do that; what you do is you follow the normal criminal process where the police have certain powers and the certain powers are restrained by the Charter. That’s the appropriate way to do a criminal investigation.”
“Justice John Sopinka called inquiries an investigation in public,” said Cavalluzzo. That’s a reference to the late Supreme Court of Canada judge who served as lawyer for Susan Nelles at an Ontario-ordered inquiry into unjustified murder charges, later dropped, against a nurse suspected in the deaths of several babies at the Hospital for Sick Children.
As for allowing the RCMP to seek disclosure of cabinet secrets at the Supreme Court of Canada, Cavalluzzo said “he’s just cutting out two layers of court.” But the larger concern is that the Supreme Court of Canada, the highest court, hears appeals and references on important constitutional questions, but it “doesn’t hear evidence” and RCMP would need very good evidence about exactly what is in the cabinet confidences.
“It seems to be a nice quick resolution but it really isn’t, because there are a lot of layers under that question of what’s protected by cabinet confidence.”
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Cavalluzzo said inquiries can be lengthy and not lead to conclusions. He noted that former Liberal premier Dalton McGuinty named an inquiry into a suspected pedophile ring in Cornwall. It was appointed in 2005, and only reported in December 2009, and reached no conclusions about whether a pedophile ring was operating, despite hearing from 140 witnesses and costing $53 million.
New Democrat Leader Jagmeet Singh, asked about Scheer’s promise Thursday, said he had always supported a public inquiry when the SNC-Lavalin story first broke, without explicitly endorsing Singh’s call on the campaign trail. However he called out Scheer for failing to answer whether he would rescind the law that allows deferred prosecution agreements for companies like SNC-Lavalin charged with corruption.
Trudeau says he takes “full responsibility” for his office’s actions in the SNC-Lavalin affair, but has long defended his position that he was right to use every legal tool available to protect Canadian jobs he said were in jeopardy of being lost.