Canada’s Trudeau denies interfering in SNC-Lavalin case

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau talks to reporters at a news conference on March 7 in Ottawa Canada. He was accused of interfering in a criminal investigation of SNC-Lavalin a powerful engineering firm

Justin Trudeau shares a new version of what happened at his September 2018 meeting with Jody Wilson-Raybould

The prime minister announced his government would seek external advice on issues related to the SNC-Lavalin affair, such as potentially splitting the role of justice minister and attorney general, as well as "operating policies and practices" across cabinet and political staff as they relate to judicial matters.

"I think the world of Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott, they are close personal friends of mine and I think together with Canadians we appreciate the work they've done and their incredibly capable leadership as ministers", Goldsmith-Jones told Coast Reporter ahead of a March 8 event in Gibsons to announce a new housing initiative.

Asked Friday why he did not apologize to her or Philpott for his handling of the affair, Trudeau said: "I do regret it happened, clearly, and I have made a commitment to learn from it".

Last month, Wilson-Raybould told the House of Commons Justice Committee that she came under relentless pressure from the Prime Minister's Office and other federal officials to ensure the company was invited to negotiate a remediation agreement.

I think it's not just a win for diversity but a win for diversity within our democracy because it's opened up parts of our democracy that I don't think Canadians were aware of. "As prime minister, I should have been", he said, vowing to "do better next time".

The scandal centers on allegations that Trudeau's inner circle intervened to shield the firm, that generates billions of Canadian dollars in revenue, from a bribery trial.

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SNC-Lavalin is charged with offering Libyan government officials $48 million in bribes between 2001 and 2011 and would face a 10-year ban on federal contracts if convicted.

SNC-Lavalin openly lobbied the Canadian government for an out-of-court settlement under a new law that would mean paying a fine and agreeing to compliance measures. If convicted, the company - with 9,000 employees in Canada and thousands more worldwide - would be barred for a decade from getting government contracts.

Last week, Wilson-Raybould testified before the committee that she had been pressured repeatedly between September and December of a year ago to drop criminal prosecution against SNC Lavalin, a Quebec engineering firm accused of bribing officials in Libya to land contracts. And he continued to state Wilson-Raybould "did not come to me" in the matter.

"It also becomes more hard for the prime minister to tell voters to trust him when two senior ministers say they have lost confidence in him".

Trudeau was expected to strike a conciliatory tone but at times sounded defensive.

The affair has prompted the resignation of two high-profile ministers and Trudeau's closest political aide.

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"In the months that followed that meeting, I asked my staff to follow up regarding Ms. Wilson-Raybould's final decision", Trudeau said.

Trudeau responded to the Globe story by telling the news media his government did not "direct" the former attorney general - language that struck many as a non-denial.

Trudeau also wished Jody Wilson-Raybould made it clear to him that she had made up her mind on the issue, had that been the case, he suggested there would not be multiple visits to her from the PMO. "The Prime Minister said, "No, no, no-we just need to find a solution", she said.

"Really, when you look at the number of multi-billion-dollar projects procured over the next decade, we're talking probably realistically something in the four to six range of projects", he said.

Under a 2018 federal law, prosecutors may negotiate a deferred prosecution agreement with corporate offenders.

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