PM commissioned report on SNC-Lavalin finds no need to divide AG and justice minister roles
Canada should not split the roles of justice minister and attorney general, according to a new report Prime Minister Justin Trudeau commissioned following the SNC-Lavalin affair.
Trudeau appointed former Liberal cabinet minister Anne McLellan to dig into whether Canada should separate the two roles in March. This came after former justice minister turned Independent MP Jody Wilson-Raybould testified that she faced "consistent and sustained" pressure to instruct federal prosecutors to drop the criminal prosecution of Quebec engineering giant SNC-Lavalin and seek a remediation agreement instead.
McLellan's report said splitting the two roles would not make a difference in similar situations.
"I do not believe that further structural change is required in Canada to protect prosecutorial independence and promote public confidence in the criminal justice system," McLellan's report reads.
"It is clear to me that there is no system for managing prosecutorial decisions that absolutely protects against the possibility of partisan interference, while providing for public accountability."
McLellan did make a series of recommendations, including the development of a "detailed protocol to govern ministerial consultations in specific prosecutions."
The protocol would address various aspects of the consultations, such as who is involved as well as where and when they would take place.
The report also calls for the Public Prosecution Service of Canada Deskbook to be updated to clarify issues like privilege when it comes to any directives provided by the attorney general. It adds that attorney generals should be encouraged to explain their reasons when issuing a direction or taking over a prosecution "in cases which raise significant public interest."
Other recommendations include the creation of education programs on the attorney general's role, a new oath of office for justice ministers that identifies the attorney general's role in upholding the rule of law, and a title change from the Department of Justice Canada to the "Department of Justice and Office of the Attorney General of Canada."
"Any structure can be vulnerable to improper interference and decision-making based on impermissible considerations," McLellan wrote in the report's conclusion.
"These measures will underscore and support the unique and central role of the attorney general. I hope they will enhance Canadians' confidence in the justice system."
Trudeau said he supports the recommendations laid out in the report and looks forward to implementing them.
"We need to be able to stand up for jobs and for the public interest in a way that doesn't go against prosecutorial independence, and that's where the McLellan report – which has been released today – lays out very clear steps that will be followed to ensure that this kind of conflict never happens again, by this government or any future government," Trudeau told reporters on Wednesday.
However, criticism of the report emerged before it was even published.
"I don't believe that Canadians are interested in the findings of Liberals who investigate other Liberals," Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said just minutes before the report was released.
"I was never prepared to give that report any credence."
He said the more important report is the one from the ethics commissioner, which was released earlier on Wednesday.
That report found that Trudeau broke the federal Conflict of Interest Act in relation to the SNC-Lavalin scandal by seeking to influence Wilson-Raybould in "many ways."
Opposition leaders have been quick to condemn the prime minister in light of the findings, which were released a little over two months before the federal election.
The federal election is currently scheduled to take place on or before Oct. 21.