- Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expelled Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott from the Liberal Party and banned them from running in October’s election as Liberals.
- Wilson-Raybould, who previously served as the Attorney General and Justice Minister, accused Trudeau of pressuring her to drop a criminal case against Canadian engineering firm SNC-Lavalin and then reassigning her when she refused.
- Opposition leader Andrew Scheer released a letter he received from Trudeau, threatening to sue him for libel over statements he made regarding the case.
Trudeau Kicks Former Ministers Out of Party
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expelled two former ministers from the Liberal Party, in a move intended to create unity between members of his party.
Trudeau said Tuesday that former Justice Minister and Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould and former Treasury Board president Jane Philpott are no longer allowed in the Liberal Party.
Trudeau also banned Wilson-Raybould and Philpott from running for the party in the federal election in October.
The move comes as Trudeau has been embroiled in a corruption scandal that alleges his office attempted to settle a criminal case against SNC-Lavalin, a huge engineering and construction firm based in Canada.
The criminal case against SNC says the company paid millions in bribes to officials in Lybia in order to secure lucrative contracts between 2001 and 2011, including millions of dollars to the regime of Lybian dictator, Muammar Gaddafi.
When Trudeau and the Liberal Party took office in 2015, Wilson-Raybould was given oversight of the case against SNC in her role as Justice Minister and Attorney General.
A Scandal is Born
Then in January, Trudeau reassigned Wilson-Raybould to the Veterans Affairs Department, which was considered a major demotion.
On February 7, The Globe and Mail published an investigative report claiming Trudeau and his aides had tried to direct Wilson-Raybould’s handling of the SNC-Lavalin case. Wilson-Raybould resigned less than a week after the story was published.
Shortly after that, Wilson-Raybould testified before a parliamentary committee, and claimed that Trudeau and his aides had pressured her to settle the case by using “political interference” and “veiled threats.”
She said what they did was not illegal, but that it crossed informal lines intended to keep politics and criminal prosecutions separate.
Following Wilson-Raybould’s testimony, Philpott resigned from her post as Treasury Board president, saying in a resignation letter that she had lost all confidence in the government.
Both women remained as members of the Canadian Parliament in the Liberal Party after they stepped down from their cabinet positions.
Why Were They Expelled?
Trudeau has continually denied any wrongdoing and has said he takes the concerns very seriously.
Trudeau’s decision to eject Wilson-Raybould and Philpott is largely considered part of his broader efforts to do damage control before he faces a federal election in October.
However, it has not been unprompted. Parliamentarians in the Liberal Party have recently pushed Trudeau to remove both women from caucus on the grounds that they were undermining party unity.
“The trust that previously existed between these two individuals and our team has been broken,” Trudeau said in a press conference on Tuesday, “It’s become clear that Ms. Wilson-Raybould and Dr. Philpott can no longer be part of our Liberal team.”
Wilson-Raybould & Philpott Stir the Pot
The Liberal Party putting pressure on Trudeau to remove Wilson-Raybould and Philpott did not come out of the blue.
About two weeks ago, Wilson-Raybould publicly released a secret a recording of a phone call she had in December with Canada’s Clerk of the Privy Council Michael Wernick, who is Canada’s top civil servant.
In the phone call, she told Wernick that Trudeau “was on dangerous ground.” Wilson-Raybould released the records shortly after Wernick announced that he was going to step down from his position before the upcoming election.
In addition to continually supporting Wilson-Raybould, Philpott also angered members of the Liberal Party after she gave an interview with MacLeans on March 21.
“There’s much more to the story that should be told,” Philpott said in the interveiw, “I believe the former attorney general has further points to make. I believe that I have further issues of concern that I’m not free to share.”
Both women can still run for election again, but they would have to run as a different party, which could be challenging. So far neither Wilson-Raybould nor Philpott have said they are going to run for Parliament again in October under another party.
Wilson-Raybould & Philpott Respond
Wilson-Raybould responded to Trudeau’s move to expel her in a series of tweets on Tuesday, writing, “I have no regrets. I will speak the truth as I will continue to do.”
Wilson-Raybould also defended herself in a letter to the Liberal Party, writing:
“I am angry, hurt, and frustrated because I feel and believe I was upholding the values that we all committed to. In giving the advice I did, and taking the steps I did, I was trying to help protect the Prime Minister and the government from a horrible mess. I am not the one who tried to interfere in sensitive proceedings.”
Philpott also responded to her expulsion in a Facebook post on Tuesday.
“It appears that the caucus is intent on staying the current course, regardless of its short-term and long-term consequences to the party and to the country,”wrote Philpott, “And it has been decided that there is no place for me in the caucus.”
Trudeau’s move to expel Wilson-Raybould and Philpott may have come from internal pressures inside the Liberal Party as they inch closer to the election, but this kind of action is largely unprecedented in Canadain politics.
“There’s been resignations on disagreements to government policy, there’s been resignations relating to scandal,” said Chris Cochrane, a University of Toronto politics professor, “There’s never been two resignations in recent memory of people resigning on principle … together.”
Cochrane also said that Wilson-Raybould and Philpott’s ejections especially come as shock because they represent a change of course for Trudeau, who has continually said that Liberals needed strong legislators with different points of view, and who also campaigned on transparency and government accountability.
“The difference here is that Trudeau explicitly promised in the last election to do business differently than previous governments,” Cochrane told the National Post.
Trudeau is also receiving criticism because he has been championed in the past as a self-described feminist and a supporter of indigenous rights.
Now, his opponents have used this incident to portray him as a leader who directed aides to bully Wilson-Raybould, an Indigenous woman, in order to protect a corporation from a criminal conviction in a corruption case.
Trudeau Threatens Lawsuit Against Opposition Leader for ‘Libel’
On Sunday, Conservative leader Andrew Scheer released a letter he received from Trudeau’s lawyer on March 31, threatening to sue him for libel.
On March 29, Scheer posted a statement on Facebook and Twitter regarding Wilson-Raybould and the SNC case. According to Trudeau’s attorney, Scheer’s statement was“beyond the pale of fair debate” and “libelous.”
Trudeau’s lawyer also said Scheer’s statement, “Contained highly defamatory comments about Prime Minister Trudeau.” The letter concludes that it should be taken as a notice for any subsequent action.
Scheer responded to the letter in a tweet, writing, “I stand by every single criticism I have made of Justin Trudeau’s behaviour in this scandal.”
The tweet also included a letter from Scheer’s own lawyer in response to Trudeau’s letter, which called the libel claim “completely without merit,” and claimed Scheer was “performing his constitutional duty to hold the Prime Minister and his government to account.”
Scheer later tweeted that he welcomed Trudeau’s lawsuit, “Because he will finally be forced to testify under oath.”
Whether or not Trudeau will move ahead with the lawsuit is yet to be known.
See what others are saying: (National Post) (CBC) (The Washington Post)
U.K. Court Rules Julian Assange Can Be Extradited to U.S.
The judgment overrules a lower court decision that blocked the WikiLeaks founder’s extradition on the grounds that his mental health was not stable enough to weather harsh conditions in the American prison system if convicted.
New Developments in Assange Extradition Battle
A British court ruled Friday that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange can be extradited to the United States to face charges of violating the Espionage Act that could land him in prison for decades.
Prosecutors in the U.S. have accused Assange of conspiring with former army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in 2010 to hack into a Department of Defense computer network and access thousands of military and diplomatic records on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The information obtained in the hack was later published by WikiLeaks in 2010 and 2011, a move U.S. authorities allege put lives in danger.
In addition to a charge of computer misuse, Assange has also been indicted on 17 espionage charges. Collectively, the charges carry a maximum prison sentence of 175 years.
The Friday decision from the High Court overturns a lower court ruling in January, which found that Assange’s mental health was too fragile for the harsh environment he could face in the U.S. prison system if convicted.
Notably, the January ruling did not determine whether or not Assange was guilty. In fact, District Judge Vanessa Baraitser explicitly rejected the defense’s arguments that the charges against him were politically motivated and that he should be protected under freedom of press.
However, she agreed that the defense had provided compelling evidence that Assange suffers from severe depression and that the conditions he could face in the U.S. prison system were “such that it would be oppressive to extradite him to the United States of America.”
The U.S. appealed the ruling, arguing that Assange’s mental health should not be a barrier to extradition and that the psychiatrist who examined him had been biased.
In October, the Biden administration vowed that if Assange were to be convicted, he would not be placed in the highest-security U.S. prison or immediately sent to solitary confinement. Officials also said that the native Australian would be eligible to serve his sentence in his home country.
High Court Ruling
The High Court agreed with the administration’s arguments in its ruling, arguing that the American’s assurances regarding the conditions of Assange’s potential incarceration were “sufficient.”
“There is no reason why this court should not accept the assurances as meaning what they say,” the ruling stated. “There is no basis for assuming that the USA has not given the assurances in good faith.”
Assange’s fiancé, Stella Moris, said in a statement that his legal team would appeal the decision to the British Supreme Court at the “earliest possible moment,” referring to the judgment as a “grave miscarriage of justice.”
The Supreme Court will now decide whether or not to hear the case based on if it believes the matter involves a point of law “of general public importance.” That decision may take weeks or even months.
If the U.K. Supreme Court court objects to hearing Assange’s appeal, he could ask the European Court of Human Rights to stay the extradition — a move that could set in motion another lengthy legal battle in the already drawn-out process.
Assange and his supporters claim he was acting as an investigative journalist when he published the classified military cables. They argue that the possibility of his extradition and prosecution represent serious threats to press freedoms in the U.S.
U.S. prosecutors dispute that Assange acted as a journalist, claiming that he encouraged illegal hacking for personal reasons.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)
Early Data Indicates Omicron is More Transmissible But Less Severe
The studies come as Pfizer and BioNTech claim that preliminary research shows a third shot of their COVID vaccine appears to provide sufficient protection against the new variant, but two doses alone may not.
More Information About Omicron
Several preliminary studies published in recent days appear to show that the new omicron COVID-19 variant may be more transmissible but less severe than previous strains.
One recent, un-peer-reviewed study by a Japanese scientist who advises the country’s health ministry found that omicron is four times more transmissible in its initial stage than delta was.
Preliminary information in countries hit hard by omicron also indicates high transmissibility. In South Africa — where the variant was first detected and is already the dominant strain — new COVID cases have more than doubled over the last week.
Health officials in the U.K. said omicron cases are doubling every two or three days, and they expect the strain to become dominant in the country in a matter of weeks.
In a statement Wednesday, World Health Organization Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that while early data does seem to show high transmissibility, it also indicates that omicron causes more mild cases than delta.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevent Director Rochelle Walensky echoed that sentiment, telling reporters that of the 40 known omicron cases in the U.S. as of Wednesday, nearly all of them were mild. One person has been hospitalized so far and none have died.
Studies on Vaccine Efficacy
Other recent studies have shown that current COVID vaccines are effective at preventing severe illness and death in omicron patients, and boosters provide at least some added protection.
On Wednesday, Pfizer and BioNTech announced that laboratory tests have shown a third dose of their COVID-19 vaccine appears to provide sufficient protection against the omicron variant, though two doses may not.
According to the companies, researchers saw a 25-fold reduction in neutralizing antibodies for omicron compared to other strains of the virus for people who had just two Pfizer doses.
By contrast, samples from people one month after they had received a Pfizer booster presented neutralizing antibodies against omicron that were comparable to those seen against previous variants after two doses.
Still, Pfizer’s chief executive also told reporters later in the day that omicron could increase the likelihood that people might need a fourth dose earlier than previously expected, which he had initially said was 12 months after the third shot.
Notably, the Pfizer research has not yet been peer-reviewed, and it remains unclear how omicron will operate outside a lab, but other studies have had similar findings.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Bloomberg) (NBC News)
40 Camels Disqualified From Beauty Contest After Breeders Inject Their Faces With Botox
The animals were barred from competing for $66 million in prizes at this year’s King Abdulaziz Camel Festival in Saudi Arabia.
Camels Booted From Beauty Contest
More than 40 camels were disqualified from a beauty contest in Saudi Arabia this week after judges found artificial enhancements in their faces, marking the biggest crackdown on contestants in the competition to date.
The animals were competing for $66 million in prizes at the King Abdulaziz Camel Festival, a month-long event that is estimated to include around 33,000 camels.
However, according to The Guardian, they were forced out of the contest when authorities found that breeders had “stretched out the lips and noses of the camels, used hormones to boost the animals’ muscles, injected heads and lips with Botox to make them bigger, inflated body parts with rubber bands, and used fillers to relax their faces.”
Those types of alterations are banned since judges look at the contestant’s heads, necks, humps, posture, and other features when evaluating them.
An announcement from the state-linked Saudi Press Agency said officials used “specialized and advanced” technology to detect tampering.
“The club is keen to halt all acts of tampering and deception in the beautification of camels,” the SPA report added before warning that organizers would “impose strict penalties on manipulators.”
While it’s unclear what that actually entails, this isn’t the first time people have tried to cheat in this way.
In 2018, 12 camels were similarly disqualified from the competition for injections in their noses, lips, and jaw.