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Five things Canada learned at the justice committee from Butts, Drouin

08 March 2019

A former key aide to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who is at the centre of a major political crisis, on Wednesday denied he had pressured the then-justice minister to allow a major firm to avoid a corruption trial past year.

A second member of Trudeau's Cabinet resigned on Monday, saying she had lost confidence in how the government had dealt with allegations that officials inappropriately pressured former Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould a year ago to try to help construction company SNC-Lavalin Group Inc avoid a trial on charges of bribing Libyan officials.

Along the way, Trudeau's principal secretary, longtime friend and trusted adviser Gerald Butts, also resigned.

"I do not see how our brief discussion on that file constitutes pressure of any kind", Butts told the House of Commons justice committee. "Sadly, I have lost confidence in how the government has dealt with this matter and in how it has responded to the issues raised".

"What we heard from Justin Trudeau was an attempt to justify and normalize corruption", he said Thursday.

She also claims she was threatened, the publication reports, and said he did so to avoid damaging the economy and avoid the loss of jobs.

Butts said he regrets that Wilson-Raybould's trust and faith in her colleagues have eroded, but all the officials named in Wilson-Raybould's testimony have done nothing wrong.

He said the push to have her seek out an external opinion from the likes of retired Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin was also motivated by the novelty of the DPA, only legalized by the Liberal government last summer.

It's alleged that the Trudeau Government attempted to interfere in a criminal trial for the benefit of engineering company SNC Lavalin, bullying the former attorney-general to help the multinational company - a major donor to the Prime Minister's Liberal Party of Canada - avoid penalties for bribes paid in Libya.

And while Wilson-Raybould said she made her final decision in mid-September to back the DPP's decision to proceed with a trial and that it was inappropriate for any lobbying to persist afterwards, Butts said he, and likely others in the PMO, only became aware of this while listening to her testimony to the committee.

"This is a story of two people who hold high office-the Prime Minister and the former attorney general-both of whom did their jobs to the best of their abilities, as did their respective staff", Butts said early on in his remarks. A second minister, Jane Philpott, resigned this week over Trudeau's handling of the matter. Wilson-Raybould was moved to the veterans affairs post in a small cabinet shuffle in mid-January - a move she believes was punishment for not acquiescing to the pressure. "As prime minister and leader of the federal ministry, I should have been".

On Wednesday, Liberals on the justice committee used their majority to quash a motion to invite Wilson-Raybould to testify once again, which the Tories and NDP argued would sort out numerous discrepancies between her testimony and Butts' testimony.

The firm, which employs 9,000 people in Canada, is based in the province of Quebec, where Trudeau's Liberals have said they need to pick up seats to win October's federal election.

Philpott said she would continue as a Parliament member for Trudeau's Liberal Party.

The committee moved into questioning with a warning from the chair to not wander too much away from the focus of the day's meeting.

"I take my fair share of responsibility for that tragic state of affairs".

On Sept. 11, Drouin was informed in an email that Wilson-Raybould would not intervene.

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May said after hearing Butts' testimony she still believes Wilson-Raybould's version of events, though noted that Butts may not have given certain interactions the same magnitude Wilson-Raybould had.

According to Wilson-Raybould's account, Butts said the statute was passed by Harper and that he doesn't like the law.

The prime minister has been struggling to contain the political crisis over the matter that has cost him two top ministers, including Ms Wilson-Raybould, in the past few weeks.

Five things Canada learned at the justice committee from Butts, Drouin