Canada PM’s chief secretary resigns amid SNC-Lavalin controversy

Chief of staff Katie Telford, left, and chief advisor Gerald Butts look on as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivers his opening remarks during the Meeting of First Ministers in Ottawa on Friday, Dec. 9, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

A top aide to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau resigned unexpectedly on Monday amid allegations Trudeau’s office had pressured the former justice minister to help construction firm SNC-Lavalin Group Inc avoid criminal prosecution.

Gerald Butts, Trudeau’s principal private secretary and a key architect of the Liberals’ 2015 election victory, said in a statement he did not pressure then-Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould over SNC-Lavalin.

Trudeau, who faces a re-election bid in October, has faced criticism since Wilson-Raybould quit his Cabinet following a Globe and Mail newspaper report this month that officials in Trudeau’s office had urged her to let SNC-Lavalin escape with a fine rather than face trial on charges of bribing Libyan officials.

SNC-Lavalin has said it had sought to avoid a corruption trial because the executives accused of wrongdoing had left the company and it had overhauled its ethics and compliance systems.

Any accusation that “I or the staff put pressure on the Attorney General (Wilson-Raybould) is not true,” Butts said in the statement on Monday.

He added that the allegation was distracting from the “vital work” Trudeau was doing and that it was in the best interest of the Prime Minister’s Office for him to step aside.

Trudeau accepted Butts’ resignation and said he had served the country with “integrity, sage advice and devotion.”

“I want to thank him for his service and continued friendship,” Trudeau said in a post on Twitter.

Neither Butts nor chief Trudeau spokesman Cameron Ahmad was immediately available for comment.

Butts, 47, has known Trudeau for more than 25 years, going back to when they were students at McGill University in Montreal. Along with Trudeau’s chief of staff, Katie Telford, Butts is widely credited with helping Trudeau’s Liberals win a surprise election victory in October 2015.

 

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