Canadian PM Trudeau's former top aide testifies in his defence

Canadian leader Justin Trudeau's ex-right hand man defended him in parliament on Wednesday over accusations of meddling in the prosecution of a corporate giant that have plunged the prime minister into his worst crisis in office.

She alleged she was subjected to relentless, inappropriate pressure _ and veiled threats about being removed as justice minister and attorney general _ to intervene to halt the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin on bribery and fraud charges related to contracts in Libya.

He welcomed the ethics investigation, which Democracy Watch has said is flawed because the commissioner, Mario Dion, was hand-picked by Mr Trudeau's cabinet, but has dismissed opposition demands for police involvement.

"There are so many contradictions now between what Mr. Butts testified and what Ms. Wilson-Raybould testified, that I can't see anything other than calling her back", said Norman Spector, who was chief of staff under former Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney.

"For a period of approximately four months between September and December 2018, I experienced a consistent and sustained effort by many people within the government to seek to politically interfere in the exercise of prosecutorial discretion in my role as the Attorney General of Canada in an inappropriate effort to secure a Deferred Prosecution Agreement with SNC-Lavalin", she testified. That solution would have avoided a potential criminal conviction that would bar the company from receiving any federal government business for a decade.

The former top prime ministerial aide, in his opening remarks, detailed conversations with Wilson-Raybould and said the topic of SNC-Lavalin came up only rarely. Wilson-Raybould was merely asked to consider a second opinion, he said, adding the final decision was hers to make. Trudeau denies the allegations, accusing Wilson-Raybould of mischaracterizing the events.

She claims they continued to "hound" her from September to December after she made known her decision not to offer SNC-Lavalin a deal.

Butts said on Wednesday the SNC-Lavalin issue had nothing to do with the Cabinet shuffle, which he said was prompted by the political retirement of Treasury Board minister Scott Brison.

"These events involved 11 people (excluding myself and my political staff) - from the Prime Minister's Office, the Privy Council Office, and the Office of the Minister of Finance", she said.

He said he thinks that most ministers and Liberal lawmakers want to kick her out of the party and that Philpott does not agree with them.

"That is not what I said", Butts responded, when asked about the allegation. "That is not a fair commentary because it has nothing to do with friendship and everything to do with her (Philpott's) set of values and how she felt about standing there and toeing the cabinet line when she didn't believe a word that the prime minister was saying".

"Trust had broken down between our office and the minister", Butts says.

  • Rogelio Becker