OTTAWA—The biggest political storm of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s term in office escalated on Tuesday with the resignation of the cabinet minister at the center of allegations that his office interfered in a criminal case.
Jody Wilson-Raybould, who until last month was Canada’s justice minister, said she was tendering her resignation “with a heavy heart” from her post as veterans-affairs minister, in a statement released on her
account. Her surprise decision, for which she gave no further explanation, is the latest development in a political uproar coming just months before Mr. Trudeau hits the campaign trail to seek re-election.
Ms. Wilson-Raybould has declined to comment for nearly a week since allegations emerged that officials in Mr. Trudeau’s office tried last year to persuade her as justice minister to drop a criminal prosecution and cut a plea deal with
Group Inc., a Montreal engineering company facing bribery-and-fraud charges. She had invoked solicitor-client privilege as a reason why she couldn’t discuss the matter further, given her previous role as the Canadian cabinet’s legal adviser.
Mr. Trudeau and other government officials have vehemently denied the allegations, first revealed in a report by Toronto’s Globe and Mail.
In a statement, a spokesman for Mr. Trudeau said Ms. Wilson-Raybould informed the Canadian leader Monday night of her decision, and Mr. Trudeau convened a cabinet meeting Tuesday morning to discuss the development. Mr. Trudeau is scheduled to speak to reporters in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Tuesday afternoon.
In the meantime, Mr. Trudeau has asked Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan to take on additional duties with the veterans portfolio.
Canada’s ethics commissioner said Monday there was enough evidence, based on media reports and other commentary, to suggest there may have been a possible violation of the country’s Conflict of Interest Act, and has started an investigation.
“This is bad for Mr. Trudeau,” said Darrell Bricker, president of Toronto-based pollster Ipsos Public Affairs. Based on polling history, he said, “there is a corrosive effect on a party’s reputation the more time they spend talking about ethics.”
In her statement, Ms. Wilson-Raybould said she was aware many Canadians would like her to speak about what happened in SNC-Lavalin affair. She said she has hired a former justice on Canada’s top court, Thomas Cromwell, to advise her on what she is legally permitted to discuss.
“This means she’s got a lot to say but she just wants to know whether she can say it,” said Duane Bratt, a political-science professor at Mount Royal University in Calgary, Alberta. He said Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s resignation marks one of the most significant cabinet departures in modern Canadian history, and could have widespread repercussions depending on what she eventually reveals.
On Monday, Mr. Trudeau said he welcomed the ethics probe, saying he and Ms. Wilson-Raybould had a conversation in the fall in which he said that any decision on seeking criminal charges against SNC-Lavalin was in her purview. Representatives for Ms. Wilson-Raybould haven’t responded to queries about whether she could corroborate Mr. Trudeau’s recollection of events.