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Trudeau pushes back on SNC-Lavalin, says he was ‘surprised and disappointed’ by Wilson-Raybould’s resignation

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If former Justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould felt she was being pressured by the Prime Minister’s Office to help Quebec-based engineering firm SNC-Lavalin avoid criminal prosecution, she had an obligation to bring those concerns up with the prime minister, Justin Trudeau said Tuesday.

Speaking to reporters in Winnipeg, Trudeau said that he was “surprised and disappointed” by Wilson-Raybould’s decision to step down.

“This resignation is not consistent with conversations I had with Jody weeks ago when I asked her to serve as Canada’s minister for Veterans Affairs and associate minister of National Defence. Nor is it consistent with the conversations we’ve had lately,” Trudeau said.

“In regards to the matter of SNC-Lavilin, let me be direct. The government of Canada did its job and to the clear public standards expected of it. If anybody felt differently they had an obligation to raise that with me. No one, including Jody, did that,” said Trudeau, who referred to the former minister by her first name several times.

​Wilson-Raybould — who has kept largely silent since a news report claimed the Prime Minister’s Office pressured her to help Quebec-based engineering firm SNC-Lavalin avoid criminal prosecution — announced she was quitting the Liberal cabinet this morning.

Her resignation could trigger another cabinet shuffle and is likely to cast a long shadow over the upcoming election campaign.

Trudeau said that he’s consulting with Canada’s new Attorney General David Lametti on whether, and to what degree, he can waive attorney-client privilege and reveal details of his conversations with Wilson-Raybould on the SNC-Lavalin case.

The prime minister warned, however, that his ability to comment might be limited by the fact that there are ongoing court proceedings involving the Quebec company.

Trudeau tried to reassure Indigenous Canadians that, despite Wilson-Raybould’s resignation, the Indigenous reconciliation effort remains a priority for his government — and that without an Indigenous member of cabinet, he’ll get his feedback on the file from Canadians across the country. 

“Our government’s commitment to reconciliation is larger than any one person and we will work closely with Indigenous partners as we walk this path together,” he said.

Wilson-Raybould, who was shuffled to the Veterans Affairs portfolio less than a month ago, has been under intense scrutiny since a Globe and Mail report alleged last week that the PMO wanted her to direct federal prosecutors to make a “deferred prosecution agreement” (DPA) to avoid taking SNC-Lavalin to trial on bribery and fraud charges in relation to contracts in Libya.

“With a heavy heart I am writing to tender my resignation as the Minister of Veterans Affairs and Associate Minister of National Defence,” Wilson-Raybould wrote in her letter to the prime minister, a copy of which she tweeted online.

“When I sought federal elected office, it was with the goal of implementing a positive and progressive vision of change on behalf of all Canadians and a different way of doing politics.”

In a brief statement, Cameron Ahmad, a spokesperson for Prime Minister Trudeau, said Wilson-Raybould tendered her resignation when she and Trudeau spoke last night. The PM informed the rest of his cabinet in a meeting this morning and announced that Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan will serve as the acting minister of Veterans Affairs, said Ahmad.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer called the resignation “a sign of a government in disarray” and once again urged Trudeau to waive solicitor-client privilege so Wilson-Raybould can speak freely about the case.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer calls upon PM Justin Trudeau to waive solicitor client privilege in the SNC-Lavalin case, especially in the wake of Jody Wilson-Raybould’s resignation from Cabinet today. 1:25

“Ms. Wilson Raybould’s resignation makes it crystal clear that Justin Trudeau is trying to hide the truth with regards to the SNC-Lavalin affair,” he told reporters in Fredericton, adding that his party respects her decision to resign from cabinet “on principle.”

Scheer said he also sent a letter to Trudeau calling on him to preserve all the documents related to the SNC-Lavalin prosecution.

“With his government in chaos and cabinet changes imminent, he must take steps to protect this information from being altered or destroyed,” Scheer said.

“As I’ve said before, Conservatives are keeping all options on the table to hold Justin Trudeau to account over this issue.”

Speaking in Regina, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said it’s “unfortunate” when any minister leaves the cabinet, but deferred follow-up questions to the prime minister.

Shortly after Trudeau made his statement, Jane Philpott, who assumed the role of president of the Treasury Board in the same cabinet shuffle that saw Wilson-Raybould demoted from the Justice portfolio, took to Twitter to voice her support for her former cabinet colleague.

“You taught me so much — particularly about Indigenous history, rights and justice. I’m proud of the laws we worked on together … I know you will continue to serve Canadians,” Philpott said.

Wilson-Raybould, who plans to stay on as MP for Vancouver-Granville, has been quiet since the original Globe and Mail story broke, saying she can’t comment because she’s bound by solicitor-client privilege.

In her resignation letter, she said she has retained the services of lawyer Thomas Cromwell, a former justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, to advise her on “topics that I am legally permitted to discuss on this matter.”

In an email to CBC News, Cromwell said he would not be making any statements or doing any interviews.

A spokesperson for MP Francis Scarpaleggia, chair of the national Liberal caucus, said that as of Tuesday morning, Wilson-Raybould hadn’t left caucus.

Justice committee MPs meeting tomorrow

Her resignation marks a significant turning point in the emerging SNC-Lavalin affair.

Just a day earlier, Prime Minster Justin Trudeau told reporters that he continued “to have full confidence in Jody.”

He also insisted, as he has since the story broke, that he did not direct Wilson-Raybould to come to any specific conclusions on whether to direct the Public Prosecution Service of Canada to reach an agreement with SNC-Lavalin.

“She confirmed for me a conversation we had this fall, where I told her directly that any decisions on matters involving the director of public prosecutions were hers alone,” Trudeau said Monday.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh says PM Justin Trudeau must explain why he removed Jody Wilson-Raybould from her role as Justice Minister in light of her resignation from Cabinet today. 0:31

“I respect her view that, due to privilege, she can’t comment or add on matters recently before the media. I also highlight that we’re bound by cabinet confidentiality. In our system of governance, her presence in cabinet should speak for itself.”

The House of Commons justice committee is meeting Wednesday to decide whether to launch a study of the SNC-Lavalin case.

The Tories and New Democrats want nine high-ranking officials — including members of Trudeau’s inner circle and the new justice minister, David Lametti — to testify before the committee.

Liberal MP Anthony Housefather, chair of the committee, told CBC News he’s “leaning” towards a study — but he has concerns.

“I’ve been in discussion, ever since this meeting was called, with Liberal committee members. And what our primary concern is, will a study by the committee become an exercise in partisanship?” he said. 

“That being said, I also believe Canadians need clarity.”

The Conservatives have taken to tweeting out the Liberal committee members’ contact information, in a bid to have members of the public exert pressure on them.

NDP MP Nathan Cullen, the party’s critic for democratic reform, said the opposition members plan to meet Tuesday to discuss adding the prime minister himself to the list of public officials being called to answer questions before the justice committee.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh also called on the Liberals to support the committee’s push to look into the allegations.

“If Justin Trudeau and the Liberal government shut the justice committee’s work down, it would send a dangerous signal to Canadians about the state of our democracy,” Singh said in a statement.

“Justin Trudeau must be transparent and we will continue to push his government to make sure Canadians receive the answers they deserve.”

Ethics investigation launched

Wilson-Raybould’s resignation is likely to haunt the Liberals during the election campaign — as will a recently-launched probe by the federal ethics commissioner.

On Monday, Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion informed the NDP MPs who had requested an investigation that there is sufficient cause to proceed with an inquiry into Trudeau’s actions in the case.

PM Justin Trudeau says he and former Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould have talked a couple of times since he arrived in B.C. yesterday, and confirmed that they spoke previously about matters involving the Director of Public Prosecutions being hers alone. 2:33

Responding to a letter from NDP MPs, Dion said he would investigate the prime minister personally for a possible contravention of Section 9 of the Conflict of Interest Act, which prohibits any official responsible for high-level decision-making in government from seeking to influence the decision of another person so as to “improperly further another person’s private interests.”

SNC-Lavalin faces charges of fraud and corruption in connection with nearly $48 million in payments made to Libyan government officials between 2001 and 2011.

The company has pleaded not guilty. 

If convicted, the company could be blocked from competing for federal government contracts for a decade.

The case is still at the preliminary hearing stage.

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List of Tourist Attractions Open Now in Ottawa

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With Ontario now in Step 3 of 2021 three-step plan for reopening, museums and other indoor attractions are allowed to reopen with capacity limited to not exceed 50 per cent capacity indoors and 75 per cent capacity outdoors.

Here is a list of Ottawa attractions you can visit starting July 16th.

Do remember to wear masks and buy tickets in advance.

Parliament Hill

Parliament’s Centre Block and Peace Tower are closed for renovation.

You can join for tours of the Senate of Canada Building (2 Rideau Street), House of Commons at West Block (111 Wellington Street) on Parliament Hill, and East Block at East Block (111 Wellington Street) on Parliament Hill.

When: Grounds open; guided tours of Parliament are suspended through the summer of 2021.
Where: 111 Wellington Street, Downtown Ottawa

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Ottawa performer leapfrogs from gymnastics to Broadway to TV

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A new AppleTV+ series set in a magical town that’s stuck in a neverending 1940s musical includes a pair of Ottawa siblings in the cast. 

Warren Yang and his sister, Ericka Hunter, play two of the singing, dancing residents of the village portrayed in Schmigadoon!, a small-screen series that takes its cues from classic musicals like Brigadoon, Wizard of Oz and Sound of Music, and skewers them with the offbeat comedic mastery of Saturday Night Live. 

In fact, you’ll recognize many of the names from SNL, starting with executive producer Lorne Michaels, creator of the late-night, live-comedy sketch show. Schmigadoon! also stars SNL cast member Cecily Strong and comedian Keegan-Michael Key, who hosted SNL in May. They play a New York couple who get lost on a hike and stumble into a strange town where everyone sings and dances. 

For Yang, a relative newcomer to show-biz, the series marks his television debut. For Hunter, the younger of his two older sisters, it’s the latest in a career path that began with dance lessons as a child more than 30 years ago. She attended Canterbury High School, Ottawa’s arts-focused secondary school. 

“Her dream was always to perform,” said Yang, 34, in an interview. “But that was never the path I thought was an option for me.” 

While his sister studied dance, Yang did gymnastics. He was an elite gymnast throughout his youth, ultimately leaving Merivale High School at 16 to train in Montreal, finishing high school through correspondence courses. He was a member of the Canadian National Team and received a scholarship to study at Penn State, majoring in marketing. 

A few years after graduation, Yang was working at an advertising agency in Toronto when he got a call from a Manhattan number. To his astonishment, they asked if he would be interested in auditioning for a Broadway revival of Miss Saigon.

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COVID-19: uOttawa to require vaccination for students living in residence

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Vaccination will be mandatory for students who want to live in residence at the University of Ottawa this year, with proof of vaccination and at least one dose required before move-in, or within two weeks of doing so if they can’t secure a shot before arriving.

Those who can’t receive a vaccine for “health-related reasons or other grounds protected under the Ontario Human Rights Code” will be able to submit a request for accommodation through the university’s housing portal, according to information on the university’s website.

Students with one dose living in residence will also have to receive their second dose “within the timeframe recommended by Ottawa Public Health.”

People who haven’t been granted an exemption and don’t get vaccinated or submit proof of having done so by the deadlines set out by the school will have their residence agreements terminated, uOttawa warns.

“Medical and health professionals are clear that vaccination is the most (effective) means of protecting people and those around them,” reads a statement provided to this newspaper by uOttawa’s director of strategic communications, Patrick Charette.

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“It is precisely for this reason that the University of Ottawa is requiring all students living in residence for the 2021-2022 academic year to be fully vaccinated. The University recognizes that some students may require accommodations for a variety of reasons and will be treating exceptions appropriately.”

Faculty, staff and students are also strongly encouraged to get vaccinated, the statement notes.

“Ensuring a high vaccine coverage in all communities is critical to ensuring an ongoing decline in cases and ending the pandemic. This will be especially important with the return of students to post-secondary institutions in our region in the fall of 2021.”

Neither Carleton University nor Algonquin College is currently mandating vaccination for students living in residence, according to the websites for both schools. But uOttawa isn’t alone in its policy – Western University, Trent University, Durham College and Fanshawe College have all implemented similar requirements. Seneca College, in the GTA, is going even further, making vaccination mandatory for students and staff to come to campus, in-person, for the fall term.

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