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Wilson-Raybould to reveal more details, documents on SNC-Lavalin affair

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  • OTTAWA — Liberals are urging former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to use her parliamentary privilege to tell the House of Commons whatever she wants about the SNC-Lavalin affair.

    But they want her and her former cabinet ally Jane Philpott to tell their stories in full all at once, rather than dragging out the controversy with partial statements and hints of more to come, which have overshadowed all other aspects of the government’s agenda.

    “That should happen right away,” Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said Friday. “If there are serious concerns, we should all be concerned, but we’ve also got to continue delivering what we’re delivering for Canadians.”

    McKenna made the comment shortly after Wilson-Raybould informed the House of Commons justice committee that she intends to make a written submission revealing more about her accusation that she faced improper pressure last fall to avert a criminal prosecution of Montreal engineering giant SNC-Lavalin.

    In a letter to the committee, Wilson-Raybould said she will provide “copies of text messages and emails” that she referred to last month when she testified for nearly four hours before the committee. She will also make a written submission, based on “relevant facts and evidence in my possession that further clarify statements I made and elucidate the accuracy and nature of statements by witnesses in testimony that came after my committee appearance.”

    Her written statement will be “within the confines of the waiver of cabinet confidence and solicitor-client privilege” she was granted before testifying orally, she said. That waiver covers up until Jan. 14, when she was shuffled out of her dual role as justice minister and attorney general.

    When she testified in person, Wilson-Raybould said she’d suffered a months-long campaign, pushed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office, to get her to order a “deferred prosecution agreement” be offered to SNC-Lavalin over its allegedly corrupt dealings in Libya. She was followed by former prime ministerial aide Gerald Butts, who said there were miscommunications but no improper pressure, and then-Privy Council clerk Michael Wernick, who denied Wilson-Raybould’s allegation that he’d issued veiled threats about her place in cabinet on the prime minister’s behalf.

    Wilson-Raybould’s letter came the day after former cabinet ally Jane Philpott fanned the SNC-Lavalin fire in an interview with Maclean’s magazine, saying there is “much more to the story” — a report that landed in the midst of a 31-hour, Conservative-orchestrated filibuster over the controversy.

    The filibuster, which continued until almost 1 a.m. Friday, was intended to protest Trudeau’s refusal to offer a blanket waiver of privilege and confidentiality that Wilson-Raybould has claimed is necessary if she is to fully tell her side of the story — including things that occurred after her move to Veterans Affairs until her resignation from cabinet a month later.

    Philpott resigned from cabinet early this month, saying she’d lost confidence in the government’s handling of the SNC-Lavalin case. Both former ministers remain in the Liberal caucus and intend to seek re-election this fall as Liberals but their continued stirring of the pot is testing the patience of their colleagues.

    Liberal MPs publicly professed Friday to be comfortable with the pair remaining in caucus, in keeping with Trudeau’s argument that diversity of opinion within Liberal ranks is a good thing .

    The Liberal-dominated justice committee shut down its investigation into the affair on Tuesday, with Liberal members concluding no rules or laws were broken. That denied Wilson-Raybould a potential opportunity to testify again and respond in person to Butts’s and Wernick’s accounts.

    A different set of Liberal MPs will likely reject a bid by the Conservatives to launch a separate investigation through the Commons ethics committee next week.

    Still, Toronto Liberal MP Adam Vaughan said nothing is stopping the ex-ministers from saying whatever they want in the Commons, where they are protected by parliamentary privilege from lawsuits.

    “If they want to tell their story, they have the best seat in the house in this country to do so. Parliamentary privilege allows them to tell their truth and my advice to both of them is avail yourself of the seat you have in the House of Commons,” he said. “Any member can rise at any time on a point of privilege and make a statement.”

    But Conservative House leader Candice Bergen said suggestions that parliamentary privilege frees the former ministers to say what they like is “a smokescreen.”  She argued that opportunities to speak at length in the Commons are limited and continued to push for a blanket waiver to let the pair testify in a committee hearing.

    Wilson-Raybould “has things she needs to tell Canadians and we need to get to the bottom of this,” Bergen said.

    At an event in Thunder Bay, Ont., on Friday afternoon, Trudeau once again shrugged off the Opposition’s demand for a broader waiver, arguing that the original waiver was “unprecedented” and allowed Wilson-Raybould to talk “entirely and completely” about the question he puts at the core of the controversy: whether she was pressured unduly on the SNC-Lavalin case during her time as attorney general.

    “She testified for four hours … There has been a full airing at the justice committee,” Trudeau said, noting that the federal ethics commissioner is also conducting his own investigation.

    Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press





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    Soldiers deploying to flood-prone areas as water levels rise in New Brunswick

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  • FREDERICTON — About 120 Canadian soldiers will soon be deployed in western New Brunswick to help residents threatened by rising floodwaters.

    The soldiers from Canadian Forces Base Gagetown in southern New Brunswick have been tasked with helping fill sandbags and assisting with evacuating homes, if necessary.

    Lt.-Col. Sean French, commander of the 2nd Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment, says the soldiers are also prepared to conduct “wellness checks” in various communities, using heavy vehicles that can move through deep water.

    Water levels in the Saint John River Basin are expected to rise significantly over the next few days, reaching or passing flood stage in several areas.

    With heavy rain expected to continue through the day, particularly in northern New Brunswick, residents of 15 communities have been warned to remain on high alert.

    Greg MacCallum, director of New Brunswick’s Emergency Measures Organization, says the rising waters are sure to lead to road closures in several areas, particularly in the Fredericton area and communities farther south.

     

    The Canadian Press



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    Rain, wind equals no 4-20 blow out for Parliament Hill, but West Coast shines

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  • OTTAWA — It was a blow out, man, the kind that’s a total drag.

    Protesters dotted one half of Parliament Hill’s front lawn on a blustery, rainy Saturday at the climax the first 4-20 “Weed Day” demonstration since Canada legalized recreational marijuana.

    The turnout disappointed organizers who expected thousands more, but a festive atmosphere prevailed as the Peace Tower clock struck 4:20 p.m., sparking simultaneous smart phone photography and the lighting of joints, bongs and pipes.

    “The weather didn’t co-operate. It kind of shut us down,” Shawn Mac, a program director for 4-20 Ottawa, said moments earlier. “Coming and going, we’ve probably seen about 3,000, but right now, probably about a thousand.”

    A bout of blowing rain earlier in the afternoon meant the shutdown of a public address system, and a made for a sparse gathering of perhaps several dozen people, most huddled under plastic ponchos or tarps.

    Sara Bakir, 29, of Ottawa was one of early arrivals, dressed in a dark hoodie under a black umbrella.

    “It’s still nice to be out with a few like-minded people,” she said laughing, and casting her eyes at the empty and soaked brownish yellow lawn. 

    Organizers learned a tough lesson even before the rain started falling — new freedoms bring great bureaucracy.

    Mac said his group is encountering more red tape Saturday than on past April 20 protests.

    Organizers can’t use the steps to the now-closed Centre Block, which means spectators will need a front row position on the lawn to see or hear — something Mac calls a “huge letdown.” 

    “Hearing is already a problem so not being able to see is a crushing blow,” he said.

    Organizers have also been told to limit musical performers to just two, Mac said, adding that isn’t in the rules of how to hold a public event on the Hill. 

    New limits on auto access also meant organizers had to haul equipment and material by hand up to the lawn from Wellington Street, he added.

    “It’s frustrating because legalization was supposed to … make things easier and not more complicated,” he said.

    Lingering post-legalization concerns are sustaining a sense of protest among 4-20 event organizers across the country.

    They include concerns over the government’s decision to tax medicinal marijuana, slow progress on legislation to expedite pardons for people previously convicted of simple pot possession, and the fact that provincial and municipal governments are grappling with retail sales and land-use laws for growing pot.

    The federal government also has yet to legalize edible marijuana products and has six more months to set rules to do so. 

    “Everything about legalization has made things harder, which is the opposite of what is was supposed to be,” said Mac.

    Others were more upbeat and saw Saturday’s event as an inspiration to the world.

    “Again, the world is watching, and I’m very proud of Canada today and Canadians,” said Kelly Coulter, a cannabis policy adviser based in British Columbia.

    She said Canada is helping change global attitudes and policies as the first G7 nation to legalize pot, and she expected people from Germany and Britain to take part in Saturday’s festivities on the Hill.

    It was a far cry from Ottawa’s subdued festivities on the West Coast, as hoards of people crowded Vancouver’s Sunset Beach to mark the city’s 25th annual 4-20 event warmed by rays of glorious spring sunshine amid a low lying marijuana haze.

    A much smaller crowd gathered at the front lawn of British Columbia’s legislature in Victoria, but the mood was equally celebratory and defiant.

    “Today, in many ways, is bittersweet for us,” said long-time marijuana activist Ted Smith, who led the countdown chant to 4:20 p.m. in Victoria. “We’re happy it’s legalized, sure, but there’s a lot of things to protest.”

    Smith, in between puffs from a large joint, said the current marijuana rules are biased against entrepreneurs who want to sell their products in much the same way as craft brewers and winemakers.

    And a downpour didn’t dampen the festivities at Woodbine Park in Toronto’s east end, where revellers trampled through the muddy grass to the steady thrum of house music.

    Cannabis artisans sold their wares at tarp-covered stands, many expressing hope that they could one day emerge from the “grey market” to set up shop at brick-and-mortar storefronts.

    Justin Loizos, owner of the Just Compassion marijuana dispensary in Toronto, said the mood Saturday was more celebratory than in past 4-20 gatherings, which felt more like protests.

    The current regime may not be the “legalization people asked for,” Loizos said, but the cannabis community should take heart in just how far Canada has come.

    “I see a lot of people complaining, whatever — don’t,” he said. “We’re just going to celebrate here and enjoy the day.”

    — with files from Adina Bresge and Dirk Meissner.

    Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press




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