Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is defending his threat to sue Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, insisting his chief rival in the upcoming election “can’t be lying to Canadians.”
Trudeau’s lawyer Julian Porter sent a letter to Scheer on Mar. 31 pointing to what he called “highly defamatory comments” the Official Opposition leader had made in a public statement two days earlier. Porter took issue with four sections of the statement, calling it “beyond the pale of fair debate” and libellous to Trudeau personally and in his role as prime minister.
Speaking about the threatened lawsuit for the first time today, Trudeau said it’s important that all politicians be straight with Canadians in how they characterize their actions and beliefs.
“I think we are going to have an election in the coming months, and you can’t be inventing things,” he said on his way into a cabinet meeting on Parliament Hill.
“You can’t be lying to Canadians, and I think highlighting that there are consequences, short-term and long-term, when politicians choose to twist the truth and distort reality for Canadians, it’s not something we’re going to put up with.”
Scheer held a news conference Sunday — a week after the libel notice — to reveal the threatened lawsuit.
Scheer’s March 29 statement, in part, accused the prime minister of political interference, of lying to Canadians and of corrupt conduct in relation to the SNC-Lavalin criminal proceedings.
In a letter in response to the threat, Scheer’s lawyer Peter Downard called the prime minister’s complaint “entirely without merit.”
“It is profoundly disappointing that the prime minister is seeking to silence debate on matters of such great public importance,” he wrote. “Mr. Scheer will not be intimidated.”
Scheer kept the pressure up in question period Monday, urging the prime minister to move ahead with the lawsuit because it could shed more light on the SNC-Lavalin matter. Legal proceedings could require Trudeau to testify.
One legal expert told CBC Radio’s The Current that while Scheer is essentially daring the prime minister to take him to court, it likely won’t happen.
“If you saw his press conference you couldn’t help but notice that the leader of the Opposition was almost salivating with this prospect, because he wants to see the optics of a whole slew of witnesses, and discoveries taking place, and emails, letters etc.,” Errol Mendes, a professor of constitutional and international law at the University of Ottawa, told host Anna Maria Tremonti.
The optics of a trial like this in an election year are “why it’s probably never going to happen,” he said.
The Commons ethics committee will meet later today, and the Conservatives will make another push to have the committee study the SNC-Lavalin affair. Liberal MPs on the committee have already used their majority to defeat a Conservative motion to launch an inquiry, arguing that the justice committee’s work was ongoing.
This story originally appeared on CBC