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Canada’s Trudeau denies asking ex-justice minister to lie in scandal case

Canadian Prime Minister and Liberal leader Justin Trudeau speaks during a federal election debate at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Quebec, Canada, on September 8, 2021. (Photo by AFP)

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has dismissed accusations he asked his former justice minister to lie to the public about a 2019 corporate legal case involving financial corruption and bribery.

The accusations have been made in a book being released just days before the Canadian federal election on September 20.

The book "Indian in the Cabinet" — whose prologue was released to the Globe and Mail — says Trudeau’s office had inappropriately pressured former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould in 2019 to dissuade her from prosecuting construction firm SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. accused of bribing to obtain multi-billion dollar contracts.

Wilson-Raybould said the prime minister, during a tense conversation in a meeting at the time, knew she had been pressured by government officials and instead wanted her to say publicly that she had not.

"I knew what he was really asking. What he was saying. In that moment, I knew he wanted me to lie — to attest that what had occurred had not occurred. ... Lie to protect a Crown government acting badly; a political party; a leader who was not taking responsibility," the former attorney general was quoted as saying in an excerpt from the book.

Wilson-Raybould refused at the time to overrule the prosecutor's decision to take the case to trial and she resigned a few days later, with an independent watchdog saying Trudeau had tried to influence her, breaching ethics rules.

Following the allegations leveled by Wilson-Raybould, Canada’s main opposition party leader demanded the resignation of what he called a disgraced prime minister.

The scandal later also led to the resignation of Trudeau's principal secretary, Gerald Butts, and Privy Council clerk Michael Wernick.

In a campaign trail near Toronto on Saturday, Trudeau denied having asked the former justice minister to lie while his opponents praised Wilson-Raybould and held up her account as further proof the 49-year-old Liberal leader cannot be trusted.

"I did not want her to lie," Trudeau said. "I would never do that. I would never ask her that. That is simply not true."

With just nine days to go before the vote, the Canadian premier tried to pull the plug on the issue and said the entire affair was the subject of countless parliamentary committee hearings, newspaper articles and commentary in the lead-up to and during the last federal election in October 2019.

Trudeau has previously admitted he tried to persuade Wilson-Raybould to reconsider the prosecutor’s decision to press ahead with a trial, saying he had been trying to defend jobs at the Quebec-based company.

A rolling Nanos Research poll of 1,200 voters conducted on Friday showed the Liberals leading 34.4% with the rival Conservatives at 30.1%, a shift from Thursday when the Conservatives were leading the Liberals by more than two percentage points.

Canadian charged with assault for throwing stones at PM

In another development on Saturday, Canadian police said the 25-year-old Canadian who recently pelted pebbles at Trudeau during a campaign trail in Ontario has been charged with assault.

The ruling was made after Shane Marshall appeared in court in London, a city southwest of Toronto in Ontario province, where the incident occurred on Monday as Trudeau was boarding his campaign bus.

The 49-year-old premier confirmed he had "felt some of that gravel," and said it was "absolutely unacceptable" for anyone to throw things and endanger people at a political rally.

Apart from Trudeau, two other people traveling on the media bus were hit by the gravel, but nobody was injured during the incident.

Trudeau has repeatedly faced protesters angry over proposed mandatory coronavirus vaccines and other crisis measures while on the campaign trail ahead of snap elections set for September 20.

On Friday, another protester was charged with threatening Trudeau at a rally in Cambridge, Ontario.

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