OTTAWA — Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has written directly to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asking him to waive solicitor-client privilege so former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould can publicly talk about what happened with SNC-Lavalin.
The request is contained in an open letter dated Sunday, in which Scheer says he also wants all communications to or from the prime minister or members of his staff about the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin to be opened up to public scrutiny.
“Solicitor-client privilege and the duty of confidentiality are important values in our legal system,” Scheer wrote.
“But in the present situation, they must be subordinated to a higher value: the confidence of Canadians in the integrity, fairness and impartiality of our criminal justice system.”
The request follows a Globe and Mail report last week that members of Trudeau’s office leaned on Wilson-Raybould to have federal prosecutors negotiate a “remediation agreement” with SNC-Lavalin rather than move ahead with a criminal prosecution.
The Quebec engineering and construction giant has faced legal trouble over allegations it paid millions of dollars in bribes to get government business in Libya, which would be a crime under Canadian law and threaten its ability to win future federal work.
Wilson-Raybould, who was demoted from her role as justice minister and attorney general last month, has said she cannot comment because in her role as the government’s top lawyer, she is bound by solicitor-client privilege.
Government officials have acknowledged to The Canadian Press that Wilson-Raybould was involved in extensive, internal discussions last month about whether SNC-Lavalin should be allowed to avoid criminal prosecution.
But they maintain there was nothing wrong with that, while Trudeau has publicly denied he or anyone in his office “directed” the minister on the matter.
Wilson-Raybould’s refusal to comment publicly has nonetheless added fuel to the political fire, sparking opposition demands for transparency and accusations of government interference in a criminal case.
In his letter, Scheer said Canadians deserve answers “as the allegations surrounding it strike at the very heart of fair and impartial law enforcement and prosecutorial functions, themselves vital to the rule of law and to our democracy.”
While the Prime Minister’s Office did not respond to questions Sunday, a Toronto Star report cited unnamed senior government officials as saying the privilege would not be waived because the case against SNC-Lavalin remains before the courts.
One senior official also reportedly told the newspaper that the government would not agree to Opposition demands for an emergency meeting of the House of Commons justice committee to hear from Wilson-Raybould and members of Trudeau’s staff.
Parliamentary committees are supposed to be masters of their own domain because of their role in holding the government to account.
The chair of the committee, Liberal MP Anthony Housefather, stated on Twitter on Sunday that “nobody has attempted to influence me” about the opposition’s attempts to hold hearings on SNC-Lavalin.
“I intend to independently determine whether committee study of the issue will be useful for Canadians (and) colleagues will do same,” Housefather wrote, adding the committee will convene on Wednesday to discuss the issue.
Liberal MPs nonetheless have a majority of members on the committee, meaning they could move to block any opposition request to conduct a probe.
Current Justice Minister and Attorney General David Lametti, who replaced Wilson-Raybould, told CTV’s Question Period in an interview broadcast Sunday that he did not believe there was any justification for a committee hearing into the matter.
“All we’ve heard are allegations in a newspaper,” said Lametti. “The prime minister has said that these allegations are false. We haven’t had any corroborating evidence there. There hasn’t been anything to my mind that justifies a committee investigation.”
Wilson-Raybould, now veterans affairs minister, released a statement on Friday saying she is bound as the former attorney general by solicitor-client privilege and cannot publicly talk about aspects of the case.
SNC-Lavalin has been charged with bribery and corruption over its efforts to secure government business in Libya and wants a deal, allowed under the law, to pay reparations rather than be prosecuted.
A guilty verdict on bribery and corruption charges would result in SNC-Lavalin being barred from government contracts in Canada for 10 years. Officials have said it could also cause foreign government contracts to dry up, potentially putting it out of business.
Consequently, they said, it was natural for internal discussions to have taken place after the director of public prosecutions, Kathleen Roussel, informed SNC-Lavalin last October that a remediation agreement would be inappropriate in this case.
The company is challenging her decision in court.
SNC-Lavalin has heavily lobbied ministers, government officials and even Scheer and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh to make its case for avoiding a prosecution. Quebec Premier Francois Legault has also pressured Trudeau to intervene on the company’s behalf.
Scheer’s office confirmed to the Star on Sunday that the Conservative leader met with the head of SNC-Lavalin last year to discuss the case against the company and a possible remediation deal. Scheer’s spokesman Brock Harrison did not respond to emails.
Under the law, the attorney general may issue a directive to the director of public prosecutions on how to handle a specific case, provided the directive is in writing and made public.
— Follow @leeberthiaume on Twitter.
Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press
151st Cowichan Exhibition includes new category: best home-grown pot
VICTORIA — One of Canada’s oldest fall fairs is putting a new twist on its annual showcase of local livestock, produce and fruit by adding a new category for best home-grown marijuana.
The Cowichan Exhibition in Duncan, B.C., which dates back to 1868, has created a best cannabis category to embrace legalization and celebrate local pot growers, said exhibition vice-president Bud James.
The fair starts Friday and the cannabis entries will be on display in the main hall at the Cowichan Exhibition Grounds along with the region’s top vegetables, fruits and baked goods. First prize is $5, second is $3 and third place gets a ribbon.
“We just decided this year, because it’s an agricultural product, and it’s been grown in the valley for years, and now that it’s finally legally grown, we would allow people to win a ribbon for the best,” said James.
He said fair officials believe the Cowichan cannabis category is the first of its kind in Canada.
An official at the Canadian Association of Fairs and Exhibitions, a non-profit organization representing rural and urban fairs, said she had not heard of any other cannabis judging contests prior to the Cowichan Exhibition, but couldn’t confirm it was the first.
A fall fair in Grand Forks, B.C., is also judging local cannabis, but the event starts Saturday, one day after Cowichan’s fair. Those who enter the competition in Grand Forks can compete for best indoor- and outdoor-grown cannabis.
James said fair organizers contacted the local council and RCMP prior to adding the cannabis category. The mayor and council did not oppose the contest and the RCMP referred organizers to B.C.’s Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch, the agency monitoring retail sales of non-medical cannabis, he said.
Organizers decided to go ahead with the event after its plans were not rejected, James said.
“Our interpretation of the rules are you can’t make it attractive to people under 19 years and we are not making it attractive,” he said.
James said the cannabis entries will be placed in a glass display case and the individual entries will be sealed in clear zip lock plastic bags.
“It’s being judged to the same standard of judging garden and field produce,” he said. “It’s done by uniformity. You want all three buds to be the same size, same shape, same colour. It’s also the dryness, texture and smell. It’s exactly the same way you would judge apples or carrots or hay bales. It’s all done the same way.”
James said the contest doesn’t involve sampling the product.
Bree Tweet, the manager of a medical cannabis dispensary in nearby Ladysmith, will judge the marijuana entries, said James.
The exhibition received 18 cannabis entries and James said the contest created a buzz at the fair.
“The enthusiasm of the entrants, the people bringing their entry forms, they are so enthusiastic it’s unbelievable,” he said. “They are so thrilled that it’s happening, that we’re doing it because they’ve been waiting for years for legalization and now, they finally got it and now they have a chance to show what they can do.”
James, who has entered his prized Dahlia flowers at past fairs, said the addition of the cannabis category has exceeded expectations with the 18 entries.
Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press
School board defends book pictured on principal’s desk after online uproar
A Toronto-area Catholic school board says an online firestorm that erupted after a book on how to teach black students was photographed on a principal’s desk stems from a misunderstanding over the book’s contents.
The Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board says the book, titled “The Guide for White Women Who Teach Black Boys,” has a provocative title but is actually a helpful resource on tackling racial and cultural oppression in education.
Michelle Coutinho, the board’s principal of equity and inclusive education, says such materials are a particularly useful reference given how diverse the student population is in the district and at that specific school.
The controversy emerged this week after a Brampton, Ont., high school, Cardinal Ambrozic Catholic Secondary School, posted a photo of its new principal on Twitter.
The photo, which shows the book on her desk, set off heated debate, with some suggesting it was a sign of racism or incompetence, or a prop meant to bolster the school’s image.
The image was also shared on instagram by 6ixBuzzTV, a popular account with roughly 1.2 million followers.
“LOOOOL. No principal should make it this far while subsequently needing a book like this,” one person wrote on Twitter. “She a bad principal,” wrote another.
Some defended the book, however, and the principal’s efforts to educate herself. “She’s making an effort to connect with her students, it’s more than most principals do,” another tweet read.
The board said it was surprised by the uproar and hoped people would look up the book before jumping to conclusions based on its title.
The principal intends to address the photo in a public announcement and invite any students with lingering questions to see her, said Bruce Campbell, the board’s spokesman.
The book, written by three researchers and published in 2017, aims to improve outcomes for black students by helping teachers create learning environments in which they feel nurtured and engaged. The title references the fact that white women make up the bulk of the teaching force in the U.S.
Coutinho said the book asks educators to challenge the biases they may bring into the classroom.
“We know that we’re steeped in a colonized kind of world view and how do we break out of that in our everyday practices?” she said, noting it has been used in the board’s anti-oppression training in the past.
Cardinal Ambrozic’s new principal was involved in a book study at several schools that delved deeply into the text last year, Coutinho said.
“If we’re going to make any changes to the education system, we have to start talking about these things and talking about them openly and honestly without shame or blame.”
Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press
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