Canada’s head of government has been put in his place by the character and fortitude of his former Attorney General. Following weeks of speculation since her resignation from Cabinet, Jody Wilson-Raybould gave highly anticipated testimony to Canada’s Liberal-majority House of Commons Justice Committee in which she said she faced "veiled threats" and political interference from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his office regarding the criminal prosecution of Montreal-based company SNC-Lavalin.
Ms. Wilson-Raybould neatly outmaneuvers PM Trudeau; as she left the four-hour committee meeting Wednesday, Ms. Wilson-Raybould was asked if she will remain in the Liberal caucus and responded that she will continue to serve as the MP for Vancouver-Granville, and that she doesn't "anticipate being kicked out of caucus” since "I was elected by the constituents of Vancouver-Granville to represent them as a Liberal Member of Parliament.” Hours later, PM Trudeau suggested he is undecided as to whether or not Ms. Wilson-Raybould will continue to have a place in Liberal caucus, saying, "I have taken knowledge of her testimony and there’s still reflections to have on next steps," dismissively adding that he remains focused "on the things that really matter to Canadians." He said that he "completely" disagreed with her characterization of events and that he and his staff did not act inappropriately.
Now, the Prime Minister’s close personal friend and former Principal Secretary, Gerald Butts, who resigned from the Prime Minister’s Office last week, has written to the House of Commons Justice Committee requesting to testify on the SNC-Lavalin scandal. After watching Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s testimony he posted a letter to Twitter with his request, stating that his evidence "will be of assistance."
Even Quebecois journalists and pundits, who up until now have written sympathetically about the SNC-Lavalin affair, are turning on PM Trudeau after Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s testimony, concluded that the Prime Minister crossed the line. The Journal’s Richard Martineau, with a headline “The real Justin Trudeau,” questioned how PM Trudeau, for all his feminism and openness and humanism and generosity and altruism, etcetera, could throw the justice system out the window so easily? Mr. Martineau asked, was it because of empathy for workers that PM Trudeau wanted to save SNC-Lavalin? “No. Because Justin needs votes in Quebec to win his next election,” he wrote, and Quebecers will protect their own even if they build prisons for dictators and pay for their sons’ prostitutes to get contracts. He continued, “Imagine if Stephen Harper acted that way. The Red Cross would have to send doctors to Radio-Canada to treat journalist victims of apoplexy.” If Quebecers continue supporting PM Trudeau now, in spite of this attack on the independence of the justice system, “we are imbeciles.”
Immediately after the Justice Committee meeting, Official Opposition Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer called for the Prime Minister’s resignation and an RCMP criminal investigation into what the Liberal government did to help SNC-Lavalin, saying, "Justin Trudeau simply cannot continue to govern this country now that Canadians know what he has done. And that is why I am calling on Mr. Trudeau to do the right thing and to resign." He continued, "Jody Wilson-Raybould tells the story of a prime minister who has lost the moral authority to govern. A prime minister who allows his partisan, political motivations to overrule his duty to uphold the rule of law. A prime minister who doesn't know where the Liberal Party ends and where the government of Canada begins." The Conservative leader encouraged the Liberal Cabinet, which is scheduled to present a federal budget next month, to find a way to govern the country in a non-partisan way without the Prime Minister. Mr. Scheer did not say what he would do if Trudeau refused to resign, such as calling a non-confidence vote.
PM Trudeau rebuffed Mr. Scheer's demand as he touted his government's record defending jobs and "the independence of our judiciary," adding Canadians will decide later this year whether to re-elect the Liberals or hand power to the Conservatives.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said Ms. Wilson-Raybould's testimony underscored his party's calls for an independent inquiry to find out the truth of what happened between the former Attorney General and members of PM Trudeau's inner circle.
Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s Testimony
Ms. Wilson-Raybould said there were at least 10 phone calls and 10 different meetings, as well as several text messages, about the SNC-Lavalin case, between her or senior members of her staff and 11 people in the Prime Minister's Office and other departments, between September 4, 2018 and December 18, 2018. One of those meetings was between her and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. She said she began to be concerned immediately about what she viewed as pressure on her to overturn the decision not to negotiate a remediation agreement with SNC-Lavalin but that her concerns were heightened as the calls and meetings continued even after she said she had made up he mind not to arrange for a deal.
Ms. Wilson-Raybould was informed on September 4 that the director of public prosecutions had decided not to pursue a remediation agreement with SNC-Lavalin, but rather continue with a criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin. She said she conducted her own due diligence and by September 16 had made up her mind that she would not overrule the director's decision or take over the prosecution herself. The law gives her the authority to do either but Ms. Wilson-Raybould said an Attorney General has never taken over a prosecution and directives to the public prosecutor have been used only for general policies, not specific cases. Ms. Wilson-Raybould said it wouldn't be appropriate to discuss what research she undertook, or why she made the decision she made, citing concerns about affecting ongoing court cases in the matter. Ms. Wilson-Raybould said she felt once she had made up her mind, it was inappropriate to have further conversations about the matter. Liberal MP Randy Boissonnault argued that decisions on prosecutions continue throughout a case and wondered whether Ms. Wilson-Raybould believed she should continue to accept information that might affect the case. "I was entirely comfortable that I had the appropriate context in which to make my decision," she said.
The conversation Ms. Wilson-Raybould had with PM Trudeau on Sept. 17 alarmed her when he talked about SNC-Lavalin's importance in Quebec, and the fact that he is a Quebec MP. She believed that distracted from appropriate concerns in considering a remediation agreement, such as saving the jobs of innocent people or the public interest more broadly. She asked him if he was interfering in her role as an independent attorney general and that she would strongly advise against that. She said Trudeau said, "No, no, no, we just need to find a solution."
Ms. Wilson-Raybould believed Privy Council clerk Michael Wernick was issuing "veiled threats" to her in a phone call they had on December 19, 2018, in which he told her that the Prime Minister was still concerned and wanted to know why a deferred-prosecution agreement wasn't being pursued. She said Mr. Wernick told her: "I think (the Prime Minister) is going to find a way to get it done one way or another. He is in that kind of mood and I wanted you to be aware of it."
The Liberal MPs on the committee asked Ms. Wilson-Raybould many times why, if she had so many concerns about being improperly pressured regarding the SNC-Lavalin prosecution, she didn't resign earlier as the Attorney General, and why she accepted a new cabinet job as the Minister of Veterans Affairs when she felt she was being shuffled for not doing what the Prime Minister wanted. Ms. Wilson-Raybould's response continued to be that she was doing her job as the Attorney General and upholding the integrity of the office. She told the committee if a directive to proceed to a deferred prosecution had been made while she was the Veterans Affairs Minister, she would have resigned from cabinet immediately. She did end up resigning on February 12 but said she could not say why, saying an order freeing her from obligations of cabinet confidentiality and solicitor-client privilege did not extend to the period after she was no longer the Attorney General.