Sometimes a defense witness’ close personal friendship with a defendant discredits his testimony because of the likelihood for bias in favor of the defense.
Friends at McGill University say Justin Trudeau and Gerald Butts had the kind of ‘deep and penetrating’ relationship that is common among privileged young men in their late teens and early twenties: lofty in their aspirations, pedestrian in their work ethic, and, at times, ambiguous in their orientation.
Critics say that the depth and intimacy of that friendship call into question the veracity of Butts’ testimony at the House of Commons’ Justice Committee on Wednesday. Widely seen as being ‘thick as thieves’ and partners in the apparent political crime that is SNC Lavalin, it’s hard for many Canadians to believe that Butts would offer a truthful characterization of a plot that he hatched and recommended to the Prime Minister.
Butts ordered the smear campaign against former Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould last month, in the days following her resignation from cabinet. It took more than a week before Trudeau disavowed those efforts.
His testimony comes just two days after Jane Philpott, seen by Canadians as the most competent member of Trudeau’s cabinet, resigned her appointment as President of the Treasury Board — a key position at the crux of most federal operations.
In her resignation letter, Philpott explained that she had lost confidence in Trudeau’s handling of the SNC Lavalin controversy, and that she could no longer maintain the constitutional convention of cabinet solidarity, which requires her to defend the government’s decisions.
Both undergraduates in the liberal arts, the two young men’s friendship grew from a shared a jovial disposition, left-leaning political views, and an occasional fondness for pairing the music of early-90s grunge with their favored varieties of marijuana.
A classmate once reflected that, “[Justin and Gerald] bonded over a shared sensibility around Canadian nationalism and possibility — despite very different backgrounds from two disparate slices of Canada.”
Butts grew up in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia, a coastal mining town of about 20,000. He is the son of a coal miner and a nurse, the youngest of six. It was worlds away from McGill’s campus.
Trudeau was born the son of the Prime Minister, more comfortable in the circles that populated McGill’s elite student body. A Quebecer and francophone who graduated from a nearby Catholic High School and lived at his father’s landmark mansion in the heart of the city, Trudeau felt at home on campus.
A classmate, Jonathan Ablett, introduced them freshman year. Butts invited Trudeau to join the debate team, and the pair traveled to tournaments together, including a trip to Princeton University during which the two were observed being ‘particularly close’. Butts was a far more skilled and tactical debater than Trudeau, but Trudeau projected greater confidence.