On Thursday February 7, Jody Wilson-Raybould, Canada’s former attorney general, accused Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of pressuring for a settlement in a criminal case involving a Quebec-based construction company, reports CNN. Trudeau denied the accusations amid numerous calls for his resignation.
Wilson-Raybould believes that the cause of her demotion was her refusal to help SNC-Lavalin, a Canadian company accused of paying bribes in Libya, to avoid prosecution, says NBC News. With a conviction, SNC-Lavalin would become ineligible for federal government business for a decade. Wilson-Raybould testified that Trudeau feared the potential job loss.
According to the New York Times, this scandal had a negative impact on Trudeau’s positive public reputation. Trudeau denied the accusation that he or his aides engaged in inappropriate behavior, and claimed that he was trying to protect Canadian jobs while still following the laws and observing the independence of the judiciary. However, he continues to receive calls for his resignation.
In response to the corruption inquiry, one of Trudeau’s top ministers resigned on March 4, reports BBC. Jane Philpott stated that she ended her service on the cabinet in order to abide by her values. Philpott declared that she lost faith in Trudeau’s government because, “It is a fundamental doctrine of the rule of law that our Attorney General should not be subjected to political pressure or interference regarding the exercise of her prosecutorial discretion in criminal cases.”
During a talk with journalists on March 8, Trudeau expressed regret over the SNC-Lavalin event, but did not apologize as many expected he would, reports CBC News. The lack of an official apology created speculation over whether Trudeau will redeem his public image before the 2019 elections. Andrew Scheer, the leader of Canada’s Conservative Party and Trudeau’s longtime opponent stated, “The Justin Trudeau we saw today is the real Justin Trudeau. A prime minister who can’t manage his own office, let alone the affairs of a great nation.”
This scandal created a challenge for Trudeau, as he had to defend his team without appearing to discredit the testimony of the widely respected Wilson-Raybould, says the Washington Post. Talking with journalists, the Prime Minister confessed for the first time that he did request Wilson-Raybould to review her decision on the SNC-Lavalin case. However, he maintained that there was no inappropriate pressure. Instead, Trudeau attributed the crisis to a lack of trust between his office and the cabinet.
According to Time, the scandal is particularly severe due to Canada’s low tolerance for corruption. Daniel Béland, the director of McGill University’s Institute for the Study of Canada, stated that Canada has had very few historical corruption scandals and that Canadians “demand a lot from officials… we need to make sure justice is independent.” In fact, Transparency International ranks Canada as the ninth most politically transparent country in the world.
Accordingly, the international reaction to the scandal was mixed, reported CBC News. John Prideaux, an editor at The Economist, believes that the scandal will deteriorate Trudeau’s internatonal reputation.
However, Prideaux also mentioned issues in British and American politics and recognized that, “What’s happening in Canada looks to me like a more conventional political scandal that you get in a healthy political culture, where people are really held accountable for what they’ve done.”