Former attorney-general Jody Wilson-Raybould has always insisted she was “trying to protect” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau by telling his cronies to stop hectoring her on the SNC-Lavalin file. She warned they were dangerously close to crossing a line that could eventually get their boss into big trouble.
That is effectively what has happened now that federal Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion has delivered his report concluding that Mr. Trudeau sought to improperly use his position to further SNC-Lavalin’s interests. The Prime Minister threw caution to the wind by allowing his staff to continue to put pressure on Ms. Wilson-Raybould to bend to his will, long after he should have known she would never do so.
Mr. Dion’s report is so scathing, both in its verdict and its criticism of the Privy Council Office’s refusal to waive cabinet confidentiality to facilitate his investigation, Mr. Trudeau may not get a second term. At the very least, he will need to show remorse for his actions and that he understands the gravity of Mr. Dion’s findings. In both tone and substance, his comments on Wednesday fell far short of the mark.
Ms. Wilson-Raybould, who quit cabinet before being ousted from the Liberal caucus, has every right to feel vindicated. As she noted in a statement, taking what must have felt like an extremely satisfying dig at her former boss: “In a country as great as Canada, essential values and principles that are the foundation for our freedoms and system of government should be actively upheld by all, especially those in positions of public trust.”
From the very start, Mr. Trudeau was poorly served by his own advisers in the PMO and by former Privy Council clerk Michael Wernick. All of them should have known they were playing with fire by seeking to put pressure on Ms. Wilson-Raybould to reconsider her decision not to overturn the Director of Public Prosecutions’ refusal to grant SNC-Lavalin a deferred prosecution agreement that would have spared the Quebec-based engineering giant from facing a trial on fraud and bribery charges.
Ultimately, the responsibility for this blowing up in his face lies with Mr. Trudeau himself. As Mr. Dion wrote, the Prime Minister “directed his staff to find a solution that would safeguard SNC-Lavalin’s business interests in Canada” and appears to have left the details to others. He should have kept closer reins on his own officials.
Mr. Wernick resigned, as did Mr. Trudeau’s principal secretary Gerald Butts – although the latter has already returned to the Prime Minister’s fold as a campaign adviser. Further staffing changes are warranted in the PMO if similar foul-ups are to be avoided. Some adult supervision is sorely needed to keep Mr. Trudeau’s staff in line, if he is not himself able to do so.
This whole mess began with a new law on deferred prosecution agreements in Canada that was poorly drafted, at least for SNC-Lavalin’s purposes. The Justice Department lawyers who wrote it appear to have had no idea the government wanted to use it to help SNC-Lavalin out of a pickle. Either that, or the PMO dropped the ball in failing to ensure the new law covered situations such as SNC’s.
So, when Director of Public Prosecutions Kathleen Roussel decided SNC-Lavalin did not meet the criteria for a DPA – mainly because it did not self-report and because the alleged crimes occurred prior to the law’s adoption – the PMO was caught wholly unprepared. But instead of digesting the reasons behind the ruling and Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s decision not to overturn it, Mr. Trudeau appears to have become even more hell-bent on getting his way.
“In his written submission, Mr. Trudeau stated that he and his staff were puzzled by [Ms. Roussel’s decision] because, in his mind, SNC-Lavalin was precisely the kind of candidate for which the remediation agreement was designed: one that had taken significant steps to reform itself and whose conviction would harm many people who had not been involved in the wrongdoing,” Mr. Dion writes.
That, however, was not Mr. Trudeau’s call to make; the decision on whether to prosecute SNC-Lavalin lay in the final analysis with Ms. Wilson-Raybould, who had to work within the law as it was written. As Mr. Dion’s report reveals, she had also sought out abundant legal advice before concluding she would not intervene.
One memorandum provided by her department cited a Supreme Court of Canada decision, stating that “prosecutorial decisions must be made in a non-partisan and objective manner that is independent from the political pressures of the government.”
From the outset, Ms. Wilson-Raybould maintained she was seeking to safeguard the integrity of the judicial process, which she felt was threatened by repeated attempts by political staffers in the PMO to put pressure on her to overturn Ms. Roussel’s call. Had Mr. Trudeau listened to her then, he would not be in the mess that he is now.