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Under fire

Unapologetic Trudeau denies interfering in prosecution of Canadian engineering firm

Facing calls to resign, Trudeau addressed the allegations at a news conference today in Ottawa.

THE CANADIAN PRESS 2019-03-07 Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Justin Tang / PA Images Justin Tang / PA Images / PA Images

CANADIAN PRIME MINISTER Justin Trudeau has denied accusations of “inappropriate” meddling in the prosecution of a corporate giant but did not apologise over the scandal. 

Facing calls to resign, Trudeau addressed the allegations news conference today in Ottawa, saying he had learned “lessons” from the crisis but denying any wrongdoing.

Trudeau’s inner circle is accused of pressuring his former attorney general to shield Canadian engineering giant SNC-Lavalin from a bribery trial.

The case has already triggered the resignation of Trudeau’s right-hand man and two cabinet ministers, with support for the prime minister and his Liberals falling for the first time behind the opposition Tories – seven months from a general election.

Addressing the media today, the 47-year-old Trudeau acknowledged that he raised the pending trial during a meeting last September with then attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould – whose resignation sparked the crisis. Trudeau said that they discussed its possible impact on jobs in his Montreal electoral base.

“But this comment was not partisan in nature,” the prime minister said today. 

During days of testimony before the House of Commons justice committee, Wilson-Raybould said she experienced “consistent and sustained” pressure from Trudeau’s inner circle to interfere in the case, including “veiled threats”.

“There was no inappropriate pressure,” said Trudeau, who has stood by his previous claim he made clear to Wilson-Raybould that any decision was hers alone.

‘Erosion of trust’

Trudeau did take some responsibility for the breakdown in relations between his office and Wilson-Raybould, Canada’s first indigenous attorney general.

She claims she was ousted from the justice ministry over the case and quit the government last month.

“As we look over the past weeks, there are many lessons to be learned and many things we would have liked to have done differently,” the prime minister said today. 

“I was not aware of that erosion of trust. As prime minister, I should have been,” he said, vowing to “do better next time.”

But he added that Wilson-Raybould should have been more forthcoming with her concerns. “She did not come to me and I wish she had,” he said.

Rejecting Trudeau’s account this afternoon, opposition leader Andrew Scheer told a news conference in Toronto that “the erosion of trust has been between Justin Trudeau and Canadians”. 

“It’s now beyond dispute that he and his office bullied and threatened Ms Wilson-Raybould to get her to let SNC-Lavalin off the hook (and) when she resisted the attempts he fired her,” Scheer said. 

The Montreal-based SNC-Lavalin was charged with corruption four years ago for allegedly paying $47 million (€31 million) in bribes between 2001 and 2011 to secure Libyan government contracts under the rule of Muammar Gaddafi and of defrauding the Libyan government.