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Trudeau threatens libel suit over SNC-Lavalin crisis, opposition says

Progressive Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer - Reuters
OTTAWA, Ont. —

he leader of Canada'sopposition Conservative Party said on Sunday that Prime MinisterJustin Trudeau threatened to sue him for libel over statementsmade about a scandal that has dogged Trudeau and his rulingLiberal Party for two months.

The Liberals have been in turmoil since former JusticeMinister Jody Wilson-Raybould said in February she had beeninappropriately pressured to ensure that construction companySNC-Lavalin Group Inc escape a corruption trial.

In a bid to quell the crisis that has hurt his chances forre-election in October, Trudeau last week expelled from theLiberal caucus Wilson-Raybould and former Treasury Board chiefJane Philpott, who also has criticized the handling of theSNC-Lavalin affair.

On Sunday, Conservative leader Andrew Scheer released aletter he said he received a week ago from a lawyer representingTrudeau. It referred to statements made by the opposition leaderon Facebook on March 29, which the letter called "beyond thepale of fair debate" and "libelous."

The letter is to be "treated as a notice" and will bereferred to "in any subsequent action," it said.

The Conservatives have repeatedly accused Liberals of tryingto "interfere in ongoing court proceedings," and have sent aletter to federal police urging them to launch a criminalinvestigation.

In response to the opposition leader's comments, the primeminister's office said in a statement on Sunday: "Andrew Scheerand the Conservatives have repeatedly made false and defamatorystatements. We put him on notice that there are consequences formaking completely false and libelous statements."

Scheer said the prime minister's complaints were "withoutmerit," adding he hoped the libel case was brought "immediately"because it would mean Trudeau would have to testify publicly andunder oath.

"I believe this is an attempt to stifle criticism of JustinTrudeau. This is a bullying attempt to try to prevent me fromdoing my constitutional duty as leader of the opposition,"Scheer told reporters.

Although far from routine, Canadian political leaders havesued rival politicians for libel in the past for remarks madeoutside Parliament, where comments are immune from prosecution.

Wilson-Raybould says officials urged her to overruleprosecutors who insisted SNC-Lavalin must face trial on chargesof bribing Libyan officials between 2001 and 2011. The firmwanted to take advantage of a law passed last year allowing itto escape with a fine.

Trudeau has denied any wrongdoing, saying he and officialshad wanted to make sure Wilson-Raybould understood the potentialfor job losses if SNC-Lavalin were found guilty.

(Reporting by Steve Scherer)

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