Jody Wilson-Raybould finally got to tell her truth, an unsettling story of political pressure that was all the more powerful for the quiet and calm with which she delivered it.
“I come from a long line of matriarchs and I am a truth teller in accordance with the laws and traditions of our Big House – this is who I am and who I will always be,” Ms. Wilson-Raybould told the House justice committee. For weeks, she has been silent when everyone around her was filling the air with their thoughts about the prosecution of Quebec engineering giant SNC-Lavalin Group Inc., about her record as a cabinet minister, and what, exactly, constitutes “inappropriate” pressure.
Finally, we got to find out what inappropriate pressure feels like, from the woman in the jaws of the vise. It was hard not to watch and wince. Any person who had delivered an answer their boss didn’t like, and then had the boss and his minions repeatedly come back and ask for a different answer, would have grimaced in sympathy as Ms. Wilson-Raybould outlined the many, many times Justin Trudeau and his circle would not take “no” for an answer.
It seemed like a good portion of Canadians stopped to hear the testimony of the woman who was, until recently, the attorney-general and justice minister, and who quit the Liberal cabinet earlier this month to sit as a backbencher. In many ways, she gave a very Canadian performance: devastating testimony delivered not with bluster or a raised voice, but instead with bland words such as “inappropriate” used like a shiv.
Even when she was using phrases like “veiled threats” – which was about as pointed as she got – Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s language was careful and circumspect, her troubling encounters with senior members of the cabinet meticulously documented. South of the border, the United States was enthralled by its own committee hearing, as Donald Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, and Republican representatives bellowed at each other for hours. But what is more damaging, in the end – their open hostility or our cloaked and subtle machinations?
Ms. Wilson-Raybould used the words ‘’appropriate” or “inappropriate” 17 times in her opening statement, which lasted more than 30 minutes. The truth that Ms. Wilson-Raybould wanted to express was that she felt inappropriate pressure to seek a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) in the SNC-Lavalin criminal case, even after the director of public prosecutions, Kathleen Roussel, decided against one. What seemed like inappropriate pressure to her sure sounded like arm-twisting to me.
When Finance Minister Bill Morneau raised the issue of potential job losses if SNC-Lavalin was convicted, Ms. Wilson-Raybould told him it was inappropriate, and for his office to stop raising the issue. When the Prime Minister mentioned the prosecution in conjunction with the upcoming provincial election in Quebec – thus, it would seem, putting the dirty fingerprints of politics on the judicial process – Ms. Wilson-Raybould said that making such connections was inappropriate. When the Prime Minister’s then-chief of staff, Gerald Butts, asked yet again about the possibility of a DPA, Ms. Wilson-Raybould said, “I raised how I needed everyone to stop talking to me about SNC as I had made up my mind and the engagements were inappropriate.”
And if the message was not clear enough, she spelled it out again, like the lawyer she is: “I imagine Canadians now fully understand that in my view these events constituted pressure to intervene in a matter, and that this pressure – or political interference – to intervene was not appropriate.”
It was exhausting listening to this litany. I can’t even imagine how exhausting it must have been to say “no,” dozens of different ways and never be heard, like a maiden in a Victorian novel. That Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s boss and his inner circle lacked the respect to listen to her “no” says volumes about the way that circle works. Or, if you prefer, for whom that circle works.
Last week, Michael Wernick, the Clerk of the Privy Council and the country’s top civil servant, gave barn-burning testimony to the committee, forcefully speaking about the threat to democracy in the country, and about how the former attorney-general had not been placed under “inappropriate pressure” in the SNC-Lavalin matter. And then Ms. Wilson-Raybould came out to quietly and methodically speak her truth, and exposed a structure that increasingly looks sleazy at its core.