Canada minister quits in interference claim

Newly appointed Veterans' Affairs Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould poses with Prime Minister Justin TrudeauImage copyright

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Newly appointed Veterans’ Affairs Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould poses with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

A Canadian minister has resigned amid allegations she was pushed by government officials to ask for leniency for a firm facing fraud charges.

Jody Wilson-Raybould gave no reasons for her surprise decision to step down from the veterans affairs portfolio.

A report last week alleged that PM Justin Trudeau’s office pressured her for intervention in a case against engineering group SNC-Lavalin.

Mr Trudeau has denied the report.

Last week, the Globe and Mail newspaper alleged, based on unnamed sources, that the prime minister’s office had pressured Jody Wilson-Raybould to intervene in the case against the Quebec-based engineering giant.

At the time she was federal justice minister and attorney general.

SNC-Lavalin is facing allegations that former executives paid bribes to win contracts in Libya under Muammar Gaddafi’s regime, which fell in 2011.

The newspaper reported that she had refused to ask prosecutors to make a deal that would have suspended prosecution against SNC-Lavalin.

Ms Wilson-Raybould has so far declined to comment on the story, citing solicitor-client privilege.

But in a letter to the prime minister announcing her resignation on Tuesday, Ms Wilson-Raybould said that she is “aware that many Canadians wish for me to speak on matters that have been in the media over the last week”.

She said she was in the process of obtaining advice on what she she was legally permitted to discuss.

She said the decision was made with a “heavy heart” and will remain on a MP.

What has been the reaction?

On Monday, Canada’s independent Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner confirmed he had launched an examination into the allegations following a request from two opposition New Democrat MPs.

The commissioner’s role is to help appointed and elected officials prevent and avoid conflicts between their public duties and private interests.

Mr Trudeau has said he welcomes the examination.

Federal opposition parties have jumped at the allegations of political interference in this federal election year in Canada.

They are pushing to have some of Mr Trudeau’s top aides and a number of Liberal MPs appear before Parliament’s justice committee.

SNC-Lavalin has declined to comment on any of the reports.

The company had hoped that it could come to a remediation agreement with prosecutors that would be an alternative to trial.

The attorney general must consent to the negotiation of the agreement.

SNC-Lavalin has argued it should be allowed to avoid prosecution because its corporate leadership and culture has changed in the wake of the charges and that it has “worked tirelessly to achieve excellence in governance and integrity”.

Who is Jody Wilson-Raybould?

Ms Wilson-Raybould was shuffled out of the justice portfolio last month and into veteran’s affairs, a move widely seen as a demotion.

In the wake of that Cabinet shuffle, she released a statement saying that the justice system must “be free from even the perception of political interference and uphold the highest levels of public confidence”.

When she was first sworn into Cabinet in 2015, she was heralded as the first indigenous justice minister, a symbolic milestone for Canada’s indigenous people and a sign of Mr Trudeau’s commitment to reconciliation.

While in the justice department, Ms Wilson-Raybould worked on a number of pieces of landmark legislation, including legalising cannabis and assisted dying.

Before entering federal politics, she worked as a prosecutor and as a regional chief in British Columbia.

She is the daughter of hereditary chief Bill Wilson, an indigenous politician who helped push former prime minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau, Mr Trudeau’s father, to enshrine indigenous rights in Canada’s constitution.

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