OTTAWA — Andrew Scheer did his level best Wednesday to provoke Prime Minister Justin Trudeau into following through on his threat to sue him over allegedly libellous criticism of the SNC-Lavalin affair.
The Conservative leader repeated, word for word, the March 29 statement that prompted Trudeau's lawyer, Julian Porter, to send him notice of a potential libel suit.
For good measure, Scheer did it outside the House of Commons — making the point that he's not trying to hide behind parliamentary privilege that protects anything said in the chamber from lawsuits.
"I'm not withdrawing my remarks. In fact, I'm standing by them and I repeated them outside of the House of Commons," Scheer told Trudeau during question period a short time later.
"Will he have the backbone to stand by his threats and show up in court to fight this case?"
Trudeau did not respond directly to Scheer's repeated taunts but he didn't withdraw the threat either.
"We put (Scheer) on notice because he and his party have a history of making false and defamatory statements," the prime minister said.
"We won't stand by while he continues to mislead Canadians."
Trudeau then accused Scheer of flogging the SNC-Lavalin issue to deflect attention from his own failure to distance himself from white supremacists or to produce plans for the economy and the environment.
He referred to Scheer's repeated refusal to denounce "by name" Faith Goldy, a white nationalist political commentator who was banned by Facebook this week. She was one of the speakers at a pro-pipeline protest on Parliament Hill in February that included some anti-immigrant, white nationalist extremists. Scheer also spoke to the protesters, showing his support of the oil and gas industry, but he did not denounce the extremists at the time.
Trudeau also demanded Scheer denounce Conservative Sen. Leo Housakos, "a member of his own caucus," for saying Tuesday there is no politician in this country "who believes that white supremacy is a threat to our way of life in Canada."
Scheer dismissed the ploy as "typical Liberal smear tactics."
"They know that I have always 100 per cent denounced white supremacy and racism and anyone who promotes those hateful ideologies ... This is what is disgusting about this. They are using the very real threat of hatred and racism in this country to cover up their corruption scandal."
Scheer also maintained that Housakos "withdrew and clarified" his comments. In a series of tweets Wednesday, Housakos explained that he meant "extremism in ALL forms is a threat to our way of life, not just one or the other." He was challenging Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland's assertion that white supremacists and their ilk represent one of the most serious terrorist threats to western democracies.
In the March 29 statement that triggered the lawsuit threat, Scheer accused Trudeau of leading a campaign to interfere with the criminal prosecution of Montreal engineering giant SNC-Lavalin and directing Canada's former attorney general, Jody Wilson-Raybould, to break the law.
Scheer said he stands by "every single word" in that statement, whereas Trudeau's "falsehoods" in the SNC-Lavalin affair "would be perjury in a court of law."
The Canadian Press