Opposition MPs call for public meeting as justice committee gets off to rocky start

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Opposition MPs call for public meeting as justice committee gets off to rocky start

by - 3 min read

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The committee of MPs studying the SNC-Lavalin affair is meeting again today in what’s already turning out to be another explosive day on the file.

The House of Commons justice committee is looking into allegations the Prime Minister’s Office and other officials inappropriately pressured Jody Wilson-Raybould, justice minister and attorney general at the time, to allow Quebec engineering firm SNC-Lavalin to avoid criminal prosecution on bribery charges providing it met certain conditions in a remediation agreement. 

Tuesday’s meeting, which started just before 9 a.m. ET, is in behind closed doors, although Opposition MPs are pushing for it to be on the record.

On Monday night, the committee’s five Liberals — who hold the majority —  wrote to chair Anthony Housefather, saying their work is done and any further examination of the SNC-Lavalin affair should be left to the conflict of interest and ethics commissioner.  

Ontario Conservative MP Lisa Raitt lays out what she wants to happen at today’s Justice Committee meeting. 0:44

“As committee members, we have achieved our objectives with respect to these meetings,” the letter said. “Following the testimony of all witnesses, we believe that all the rules and laws were followed.

“Canadians now have the necessary information to arrive at a conclusion. As parliamentarians, we respect the work of the conflict of interest and ethics commissioner and believe the ongoing study by this independent officer of Parliament is the appropriate way forward.”

Opposition MPs want Wilson-Raybould to return

Wilson-Raybould testified for nearly four hours during her appearance in front of the committee last month, but has hinted she has more to say.

Opposition MPs have been pushing for Wilson-Raybould to return to the committee to talk about why she later resigned from cabinet, but Liberal MPs are now likely to introduce a motion to shut down further study.

Conservative MP Lisa Raitt said that’s more of a reason to hold the committee in public.

Opposition members have been pressing for a second appearance by Jody Wilson-Raybould before the justice committee. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

“It’s disappointing, but they’ve gone public with their plan that they seem to be wanting to put in today and we have a right to respond to it in public,” she said before heading into the meeting.

“The Liberals want to shut down this committee. We’re going to go in and give it a fighting chance.”

Document released to media 

Raitt said if the Liberals won’t agree to publicize the discussion, then she wants a fulsome record of the minutes to be released. She also suggested the committee could hold town hall meetings and hear from Canadians about the affair.

Soon after the meeting started Tuesday, the Opposition MPs left the committee rooms, accusing the Liberals of making a mockery of the in-camera proceedings after a document detailing a motion related to hate crimes was handed to reporters and subsequently tweeted out.

Raitt said it calls into question what is actually in camera and what is not.

“This is yet another effort to change the channel,” added MP Murray Rankin.

The committee briefly suspended, but has since resumed.

In the letter signed by Randy Boissonnault, Iqra Khalid, Ali Ehsassi, Ron McKinnon and Colin Fraser, the MPs write that they set out to probe the allegations with an “open mind,” but accuse the opposition MPs of falling short.

“We note that the opposition parties rushed to judgment even before hearing all the relevant information,” the letter said.

Liberal MPs and staffers gather and speak before a meeting of the Justice Committee in Ottawa, Tuesday March 19, 2019. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

“[Tuesday] will be the 11th meeting over five weeks where the committee has discussed this topic. We heard 13 hours of comprehensive testimony from 10 different witnesses. Canadians can judge for themselves the facts, perspectives and relevant legal principles.”

The prescheduled meeting also comes a day after Clerk of Privy Council Michael Wernick, a key player in the story, announced he would be stepping down after 38 years of public service. 

While he called the move a retirement, he said there is “no path” for him to have a “relationship of mutual trust and respect” with opposition party leaders.

He has denied making “veiled threats” to pressure Wilson-Raybould.

This story originally appeared on CBC

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