On April 3, in the Canadian House of Commons, Trudeau was forced, under tightly focused questioning by Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre, to acknowledge that one of his first important statements about the scandal had been a falsehood.
On April 7, the leader of the Conservative Party, Andrew Scheer, revealed that a week earlier, a lawyer for Trudeau had threatened him with a libel lawsuit, a rare step in Canadian politics. One basis of the threat? Scheer had, on March 29, accused Trudeau of lying about the very thing that, on April 3, Trudeau admitted to lying about.
Could the situation get more absurd? Yes! On the evening of April 7, Trudeau’s spinners issued a statement denouncing Scheer for wasting the public’s time talking about issues irrelevant to Canadians’ real concerns—that is, by talking about the lawsuit Trudeau himself had initiated.
Trudeau just failed Kipling’s challenge: “If you can keep your head when all about you / Are losing theirs and blaming it on you.”
The scandal convulsing Canadian politics began with a corruption case involving a large engineering firm, SNC-Lavalin. To secure contracts in Libya a decade ago, SNC-Lavalin paid bribes to the son of the former Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi. Those bribes violated Canadian law. SNC-Lavalin was caught and prosecuted, and faced tough penalties.
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Hoping to avert or mitigate the penalties, SNC-Lavalin commenced a lobbying campaign within Trudeau’s Liberal Party almost as soon as it came to power in November 2015. SNC-Lavalin has long been an important Liberal campaign contributor. Its chairman is a supremely well-connected former head of the Canadian civil service.
The trouble for SNC-Lavalin was that the then-federal attorney general, Jody Wilson-Raybould, refused to play ball. JWR, as she’s become known, was the first indigenous Canadian to hold Canada’s top law-enforcement job. She had her own agenda, one that often put her at variance with the rest of the Trudeau government. When the party began to pressure her to help SNC-Lavalin, she refused to yield.
In January 2019, Wilson-Raybould was removed as attorney general and demoted to the lesser job of minister of veterans’ affairs. On February 8, the Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail published the first story about the pressure campaign on Wilson-Raybould. Four days later, Wilson-Raybould resigned from the cabinet, followed on March 4 by another cabinet official, Jane Philpott.
Trudeau has forcefully denied allegations that he sought to tamper with justice. But again and again, the specifics of those denials have been contradicted—culminating in the explosive revelation on March 29 that Wilson-Raybould recorded a phone call back in December with Michael Wernick, then head of the civil service, in which Wernick intimated to Wilson-Raybould that by refusing to relent on SNC-Lavalin, she was putting her job as attorney general at risk. That’s the core allegation of the scandal, and it now stands as fact.