Trudeau blames ‘erosion of belief’ in scandal fallout

TRENTON, Canada

An “erosion of trust” led to the resignations of two senior Cabinet ministers and his closest advisor, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said at a press conference. 

The scandal, involving charges of members of the prime minister’s office trying to influence the former attorney general regarding prosecution of giant construction firm SNC Lavalin, has turned Canada on its ear.

The fallout has resulted in the leader of the opposition calling for Trudeau’s resignation and a justice committee is investigating and questioning those involved.

The furor was kindled Feb. 12 when Jody Wilson-Raybould resigned from the Cabinet, saying when she was attorney general she was pressured to adopt a deferred prosecution agreement regarding SNC Lavalin. The attorney general’s office is supposed to be autonomous from any outside interference in justice affairs.

SNC Lavalin is a giant Canadian construction company that employs 9,000 in Canada and has a global workforce of 50,000.

In 2016, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police charged SNC Lavalin with corruption and fraud, saying between 2001 and 2011, the company bribed Libyan officials, including Moammar Qaddafi, with almost CAN$50 million to win contracts and defrauded Libyan businesses of nearly CAN$130 million.

If convicted, the company would not be able to bid on Canadian government contracts for 10 years, putting many of the 9,000 jobs in jeopardy.

It was alleged by Wilson-Raybould in her testimony to the justice committee she was pressured to accept a deferred prosecution agreement where SNC Lavalin would meet certain stipulations like fines but would not face criminal prosecution, thereby protecting jobs.

Wilson-Raybould’s resignation was followed by Trudeau’s close friend and top advisor Gerald Butts. On March 4, Treasury Board head and one of Trudeau’s most trusted Cabinet ministers also resigned. Jane Philpott said she had lost confidence in the government as a result of the way it handled the SNC Lavalin affair.

Butts testified he discussed the SNC Lavalin affair with Wilson-Raybould at the urging of Trudeau, but only the effect of any decision. He said he did not pressure her as to the course of action she should take. He said he resigned because of a break down in trust between himself and Wilson-Raybould.

At the press conference, Trudeau said he did not know of the breach.

“I was not aware of that erosion of trust and as prime minister and leader of the ministry, I should have been,” he said.

Trudeau said he has asked for expert opinions on operating policies for Cabinet ministers and staff on judicial issues.

SNC Lavalin has offices in more than 50 countries.

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