The federal government will not be splitting the role of justice minister and attorney general, but it will move to clearly define the separation between the two, according to the minister in charge of those portfolios.
David Lametti said he will be moving on the recommendations issued by Anne McLellan, a former Liberal deputy prime minister, who was tasked to study the issue in the wake of the SNC-Lavalin affair and called for sharper lines between the roles.
“I think the system as it is in place is a good system,” Lametti said.
“What the McLellan report asks us to do is try to achieve more clarity and more certainty and we’ll do that by implementing the report.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau mandated Lametti to adopt all of the recommendations put forward by McLellan.
“I think they’re positive,” Lametti said.
“It maintains a position, two positions, that have been together since the beginning of Confederation that have generally worked reasonably well as Anne McLellan’s report points out, and so that’s the direction in which we’re moving.”
Criticism after allegations of pressure
The dual responsibilities of the attorney general and justice minister came under scrutiny after Jody Wilson-Raybould, the former justice minister and attorney general of Canada, said she faced pressure from the Prime Minister’s Office to give Montreal-based engineering company SNC-Lavalin a pass on a criminal trial to face bribery and corruption charges.
Mario Dion, the conflict of interest and ethics commissioner, released a report in August on the affair that found Trudeau had violated the Conflict of Interest Act in trying to influence Wilson-Raybould.
Lametti maintains there was no interference in the judicial process in the SNC-Lavalin case.
Months after the political turmoil, SNC struck a plea deal with the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions. Under the agreement, the company pleaded guilty to one charge of fraud over $5,000 in relation to the company’s activities in Libya. All other charges have been dropped.
The affair triggered calls for making the attorney general’s office a standalone portfolio to avoid a repeat of the situation, which prompted Trudeau to tap McLellan to review the issue.
Critics questioned how the attorney general, who is responsible for providing legal advice and representing the government in legal proceedings, could not face a conflict when also taking on a political role as justice minister.
Lametti moving on commission for wrongfully convicted
Lametti faces several other major tasks in the coming year.
He said his first big job will be to work with the federal health minister to respond to a Quebec Superior Court ruling that gives Ottawa until March to create a new framework for ill people to receive medical assistance in dying.
Lametti said he is also concentrating on amending the Criminal Code to ban the practice of conversion therapy, along with establishing a new set of online rights to protect people from discrimination and hate.
He also will be involved in drafting legislation to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples by the end of the year.
Lametti said one of his key goals this year is to establish a commission for the wrongfully convicted, which was advocated by his former boss and ex-Supreme Court of Canada Justice Peter Cory and professor Irwin Cotler.
“It is something that I have believed in for a long time,” Lametti said.
Lametti is staying out of the controversy surrounding Bill 21, Quebec’s secularism legislation, which bans public servants from wearing religious symbols. The law will face a constitutional challenge in October 2020.
“Our opinion hasn’t changed that we don’t feel it’s up to a government to tell people what to wear or what not to wear,” Lametti said.
“What is important is that a group of Quebecers is challenging this legislation in the court system. We’re watching that process very carefully.”
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