Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has rejected calls to resign over a scandal that has rocked his administration, with senior officials being accused of attempting to protect from prosecution a major Montreal-based engineering company accused of bribery.
"Justin Trudeau simply cannot continue to govern this country now that Canadians know what he has done and that is why I am calling on Mr. Trudeau to do the right thing and to resign," Conservative leader Andrew Scheer, who is slated to run against Trudeau in Canada's upcoming October 2019 election, said in a statement to reporters.
Calling on Royal Canadian Mounted Police to immediately launch an investigation into the claims against members of the Trudeau administration if it has not done so already, Scheer said he believes that Trudeau has "lost the moral authority to govern" in the wake of the allegations leveled against his government.
Scheer's statement came after Canada's former Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Jody Wilson-Raybould, described a coordinated effort by senior officials close to Trudeau to discourage her from prosecuting Canadian firm SNC-Lavalin over accusations of fraud and bribery.
Wilson-Raybould said she was barraged with demands and even veiled threats asking her to shut down the case and pursue a deferred prosecution agreement instead, which would allow SNC-Lavalin to pay a fine to address the allegations. The former justice minister said she had been subjected to at least 10 phone calls and 10 separate meetings with senior officials to discuss the case within a four-month period.
She also described a meeting with Trudeau himself, at which she alleges the prime minister asked her to "help out" with the case, saying he was concerned as a member of parliament for Quebec that SNC-Lavalin jobs could be left hanging in the balance if the case were to move forward.
Wilson-Raybould said she had asked the prime minister at the time: “Are you politically interfering with my role as attorney general?" and warned him that she "would strongly advise against it."
"No, no, no. We just need to find a solution," she described the Canadian leader as responding.
The controversy surrounding the SNC-Lavalin case has plagued the Trudeau administration since The Globe and Mail newspaper reported earlier this month that senior officials had allegedly pressured Wilson-Raybould into attempting to avoid a criminal prosecution against SNC-Lavalin over accusations of fraud and corruption around government contracts in Libya. If convicted of the charges, SNC-Lavalin could face a decade-long ban from competing for federal government contracts.
Despite allegedly facing pressure to drop the case, Wilson-Raybould said she pursued it, but after four months, was demoted to veteran affairs minister.
The former attorney general said during her testimony this week that she viewed her demotion as being reminiscent of the infamous Saturday Night Massacre, a key moment in the Watergate scandal that saw former President Richard Nixon fire Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox before accepting the resignations of Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus.
Scheer said it was unacceptable that Wilson-Raybould had allegedly been relentlessly targeted by senior officials "with the sole objective of bullying her into bending the law to benefit a well-connected corporation."
"The details are as shocking as they are corrupt," Scheer said in his statement. "Multiple veiled threats to her job if she didn't bow to their demands. Urgings to consider the consequences on election results and shareholder value above judicial due process. And reminders from Justin Trudeau to his attorney general about his own electoral prospects should she allow an SNC-Lavalin trial to proceed."
Describing Trudeau as a leader "who allows his partisan, political motivations to overrule his duty to uphold the rule of law" and as "who has allowed a systemic culture of corruption to take root in his office and those of his most senior Cabinet and public service colleagues," Scheer said Canada had "entered the final stages of Mr. Trudeau's government."
"He can no longer and in good standing with a clear conscience lead this nation," Scheer said.
Despite the opposition party's calls for Trudeau to resign, the Canadian prime minister has refused, maintaining that any decision to avoid prosecuting SNC-Lavalin was Wilson-Raybould's alone.
Speaking at a news conference following Wilson-Raybould's testimony, Trudeau said he "completely disagrees with the former attorney general's characterization of events" and maintained that his administration was only focused on jobs.