Canada’s top civil servant to quit as scandal’s toll on Trudeau mounts

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Privy Council Clerk Michael Wernick attend a cabinet shuffle at Rideau Hall in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, March 18, 2019. (REUTERS)
Updated 19 March 2019
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Canada’s top civil servant to quit as scandal’s toll on Trudeau mounts

  • The scandal is the most serious faced by the 47-year-old Trudeau since he led the Liberals out of the political wilderness and into power in 2015 on a promise to do politics differently

OTTAWA: The head of Canada’s federal bureaucracy said on Monday he was quitting over his role in handling a corporate corruption case, dealing another blow to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as he battles the biggest political crisis of his tenure.
Polls suggest that Trudeau’s Liberals — who a few months ago looked certain to be re-elected in October — are now at risk of losing power to the official opposition Conservatives.
Trudeau has been on the defensive since Feb. 7 over allegations that top officials leaned on former Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould to ensure engineering and construction firm SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. avoided a corruption trial.
Top civil servant Michael Wernick told Trudeau he would be retiring in the coming weeks because opposition leaders had lost confidence in him over the scandal. Two high-profile women cabinet ministers and Trudeau’s closest personal aide had already quit over SNC-Lavalin before Monday’s resignation.
Wernick, the clerk of the privy council, is supposed to be non-partisan, like the rest of the federal bureaucracy. But his strong defense of government officials over the SNC-Lavalin affair and his insistence that no one had done anything wrong triggered widespread criticism from opposition legislators that he was siding with the Liberals.
“It is now apparent that there is no path for me to have a relationship of mutual trust and respect with the leaders of the opposition parties,” said Wernick, who was appointed by Trudeau in early 2016.
Clerks have traditionally had an exceptionally close relationship with prime ministers, and the two tended to talk every day. Wernick’s departure leaves Trudeau needing to fill one of the top jobs in Ottawa just months ahead of the election.
Trudeau spokesman Matt Pascuzzo said the prime minister had not asked Wernick to go.
Wilson-Raybould told the House of Commons justice committee last month that Wernick had put intense pressure on her to help SNC-Lavalin avoid prosecution over allegations it bribed Libyan officials.
The scandal is the most serious faced by the 47-year-old Trudeau since he led the Liberals out of the political wilderness and into power in 2015 on a promise to do politics differently.
The Conservatives, the largest opposition party in parliament, and the left-leaning New Democrats accuse Trudeau of old-style backroom deals and trying to cover up what happened.
Conservative leader Andrew Scheer said Wernick had resigned “in disgrace” and repeated his calls for a full public inquiry, an idea that Trudeau has already ruled out.
“This is like a five-alarm dumpster fire of political cronyism, incompetence and now obstruction. What is the prime minister so afraid of?” New Democrat legislator Charlie Angus said in the House of Commons.
Earlier this month, Trudeau denied he or his officials had interfered in the judicial system, and he offered no apology.
In a surprise move, Trudeau on Monday named Joyce Murray, a 64-year-old Liberal backbencher with no federal cabinet experience, as president of the Treasury Board, where she will be in overall charge of government spending.
Murray replaces Jane Philpott, who quit on March 4 in protest over how the government was handling the crisis.
Wilson-Raybould, who was demoted in January, resigned from Trudeau’s Cabinet the next month.
SNC-Lavalin is accused of bribing Libyan officials to get contracts between 2001 and 2011. The firm had strongly lobbied in favor of a deferred prosecution agreement, or out-of-court settlement, instead of going to trial.
The company has declined further comment.


Unspeakable grief: A husband, wife and three children wiped out in Sri Lanka

Updated 23 April 2019
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Unspeakable grief: A husband, wife and three children wiped out in Sri Lanka

  • The Gomez family gather for funeral of a husband and wife and their three sons
  • They were brutally killed as they attended Easter Sunday Mass at Colombo’s St. Joseph’s Shrine

COLOMBO: The dark wooden coffins, sitting side by side, attested to one family’s unspeakable grief.
The Gomez family gathered Tuesday to say a final farewell to five loved ones — a son, a daughter-in-law and three young grandsons — brutally killed as they attended Easter Sunday Mass at Colombo’s St. Joseph’s Shrine.
“All family, all generation, is lost,” said Joseph Gomez, the family patriarch, as tears welled in his eyes. Dozens of family members and neighbors were gathered in his simple home, where the sound of hymns sung by mourners gently wafted in the background and candles flickered beside three coffins. The bodies of two grandsons have yet to be recovered.
Across Sri Lanka, Tuesday was a national day of mourning as families began to lay to rest the more than 320 victims of the bomb blasts that struck a half-dozen churches and hotels in the island nation.
For the Gomez family, the loss was unfathomable: A 33-year-old son, Berlington Joseph, the young man’s 31-year-old wife Chandrika Arumugam, and their three boys, 9-year-old Bevon, 6-year-old Clavon and baby Avon, who would have turned 1 next week. A funeral card with a photo of the family clutched in his hands, the elder Gomez wailed: “I can’t bear this on me, I can’t bear this.”
“My eldest son, my eldest son,” he sobbed as he laid bouquets of red roses and brightly colored daisies on the largest coffin. Next to it was a tiny coffin, a photo of little Avon tucked into a wooden frame nearby.
The coffins, draped with long white tassels, were then carried to a Colombo cemetery and lowered into side-by-side graves.
At St. Joseph’s Shrine, dozens of mourners gathered outside, lighting candles and praying in unison for the victims of Sunday’s blasts as heavily armed soldiers stood guard.
At St. Sebastian Church in Negombo, a funeral service was held Tuesday for victims killed there as they worshipped, led by Cardinal Malcom Ranjith. The church was heavily guarded by hundreds of army, air force and police troops, and soldiers were deployed every 15 feet along the streets of the city some 20 miles north of Colombo.
Throughout the country, people observed a three-minute silence for the victims of the near-simultaneous attacks at three churches and three luxury hotels, and three other related blasts, the deadliest violence to strike Sri Lanka in a decade.
The Sri Lankan government has blamed the attack on National Towheed Jamaar, a little-known local extremist group, and on Tuesday, the Daesh group also claimed responsibility, though it provided no proof it was involved and has made unsubstantiated claims in the past.