Justice Minister at Center of Trudeau Political Tempest Will Not Testify Again
OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada has been trying for weeks to shift the country’s attention from accusations by his former justice minister that his government improperly pressured her on a criminal case.
On Wednesday, members of his party helped him do that by blocking the minister from testifying again about the matter before a parliamentary committee.
Mr. Trudeau’s opponents immediately cried foul.
“What does this say to Canadians?” said Tracey Ramsey, a member of the New Democratic Party. “That they have something to hide.”
The committee is controlled by Mr. Trudeau’s Liberal party. Liberal committee members did not speak with reporters.
Last month, the former justice minister, Jody Wilson-Raybould, who was also a former attorney general, told the House of Commons justice committee that Mr. Trudeau and his aides had persistently and improperly pressured her to seek a monetary penalty, rather than a criminal conviction, in a corruption case against SNC-Lavalin, a giant Montreal-based company.
The company is accused of paying tens of millions of dollars in bribes to Libyan officials when the country was ruled by Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi.
Last week, Mr. Trudeau’s top political aide and best friend from college, Gerald Butts, also testified before the committee.
He said Ms. Wilson-Raybould was asked to consider the monetary penalty because a conviction would bar SNC-Lavalin from government contracts, and potentially jeopardize 9,000 Canadian jobs.
He also told lawmakers that Ms. Wilson-Raybould, who was moved to the less prestigious post of veterans affairs in January before she resigned from the cabinet, was first offered the job of Indigenous affairs minister but turned it down.
After his testimony, Ms. Wilson-Raybould, who remains a Liberal member of Parliament, said she was willing to retestify. And Conservatives pushed for the committee to call her back.
But lawmakers shut the meeting without formally considering inviting her back. As the vote was held to adjourn, several Conservative members shouted “cover up” and “shame.”
“Mr. Trudeau directed his committee members to shut down the committee’s investigation into the SNC-Lavalin scandal,” Pierre Poilievre, a Conservative, told reporters. “The justice committee has become the Justin committee.”
When Mr. Trudeau held a new conference about the controversy last week, he conspicuously did not offer any apologies but cited the importance of the committee hearings as well as a conflict of interest investigation by the Parliamentary ethics commissioner.
Since then, the Liberals appear to have been trying to focus conversation on a budget that will be presented on Tuesday and will outline the government’s priorities leading up to the national election in October.
Mr. Trudeau is in Florida this week with his family on a school break vacation.