Jody Wilson-Raybould is calling on the Liberal government to remove roadblocks to a long-standing RCMP inquiry into possible obstruction of justice, and said she is not surprised that Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau denied urging her to lie about a pressure campaign to subvert the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin.
In an interview with The Globe and Mail on Sunday, Ms. Wilson-Raybould expressed disappointment that Mountie investigators have not been able to complete their examination into the SNC-Lavalin affair because the government has denied them access to cabinet documents and key witnesses.
“It’s important for the RCMP to do their job,” she said. “The Ethics Commissioner was also unable to interview a number of witnesses so I don’t know if [the RCMP] are still undertaking a review … but I think it is important to have the ability to do a fulsome investigation.”
The RCMP said it could not provide an update on its investigation when contacted by The Globe on Sunday. In March, the Mounties told The Globe it “continues to examine this matter carefully with all available information and will take appropriate actions as required.”
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole was asked at a campaign stop in Vancouver on Sunday whether he would lift cabinet confidences if his party forms the government so the Mounties can properly investigate the SNC-Lavalin matter.
“The answer is yes,” he said. “One of the very disappointing things with Mr. Trudeau is that there has been special access for friends and people close to the Prime Minister and those around him. You should not be able to use your influence to lobby your way out of criminal prosecution.”
In her memoirs, ‘Indian’ in the Cabinet: Speaking Truth to Power, Ms. Wilson-Raybould recounts detailed private conversations with Mr. Trudeau in the final days before her resignation from cabinet, as well as months of intense lobbying by senior advisers in the Prime Minister’s Office to drop the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin.
Ms. Wilson-Raybould would not interfere in the prosecution and was demoted to Veterans Affairs minister. She and fellow cabinet minister Jane Philpott later resigned from cabinet after the The Globe exposed the pressure campaign. The scandal also led to the resignations of Mr. Trudeau’s top adviser, Gerald Butts, and Privy Council clerk Michael Wernick, the top civil servant.
SNC later pleaded guilty to one fraud charge, agreed to a $280-million fine and was subject to three years of probation.
In her memoirs, Ms. Wilson-Raybould accuses Mr. Trudeau of asking her to lie about the pressure tactics. She also describes how power is centralized in the hands of key Trudeau lieutenants, saying cabinet ministers have little influence and are punished if they buck the dictates of the PMO.
“I didn’t expect Justin Trudeau to say anything different,” she said of his denial that he asked her to lie. “Trudeau is delivering the lines he is given.”
Mr. Trudeau told reporters Sunday that he had “no information to share” when asked if cabinet confidences prevented the RCMP from accessing information to finish its investigation. He also said that he has not been personally contacted by the RCMP on the SNC-Lavalin matter.
The Globe has reported that the RCMP probe has been stymied by the Liberal government’s failure to provide cabinet documents and access to key witnesses.
In 2019, federal Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion found that Mr. Trudeau violated conflict-of-interest rules by attempting to interfere in the criminal prosecution of the Quebec engineering giant. Mr. Dion said he was also unable to fully investigate the matter because the government denied him access to cabinet documents and to fully examine witnesses.
The decision to release cabinet confidences is made by the Clerk of the Privy Council, who is in charge of the bureaucracy and reports to the Prime Minister.
Mr. Trudeau tried Sunday to put the SNC-Lavalin affair behind him, saying that over the past two years, there have been parliamentary committees, publications and testimony into the matter.
“This is something that has been discussed amply including thoroughly before the last election,” he said in Candiac, Que.
When The Globe broke the story of the pressure campaign on Feb. 7, 2019, Mr. Trudeau said the allegations were false. They were later substantiated by parliamentary testimony, a taped conversation between Ms. Wilson-Raybould and Mr. Wernick and the Ethics Commissioner’s findings.
In her memoirs, Ms. Wilson-Raybould describes how cabinet ministers were discouraged from speaking to one another; how top Trudeau aides interfered in policy making; and how ministers were advised to not put anything on paper and conduct sensitive policy conversations over the telephone.
“Unelected staffers tried to tell me what to do. Or not allowing ministers to be in rooms together without a [PMO] staffer presence.” she said, noting that they wouldn’t even let senior cabinet ministers have access to the Prime Minister.
“In order to have access to him, I would have to go through [principal secretary] Gerry Butts or go through the Prime Minister’s switchboard,” she said. “I just find that incredibly bizarre … you would assume cabinet ministers were the people you can trust the most … but there was a significant amount of control in terms of isolating the Prime Minister from many ministers.”
Ms. Wilson-Raybould describes in her book how she felt demeaned by many white colleagues at the cabinet table as she fought to put Indigenous rights on the table, everything from a comprehensive framework for recognition and implementation of rights to ending mandatory-minimum sentences that disproportionally affect First Nations people.
“I did have personal experiences of racism and having other ministers say the same thing that I did and it was finally heard. Those experiences that so many Indigenous people experience in their workplace, I did also,” she said. “There were efforts to marginalize and where my lived experiences were not taken into account … basically because they knew better.”
At a campaign stop in Sudbury, Ont., NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh responded to questions about Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s experience of racism within the cabinet.
“It’s pretty shocking. We don’t expect that that would happen,” he said. “She is an incredibly accomplished lawyer, someone with an incredible résumé of experience.”
He added that it’s the reality of a lot of racialized people, and said bringing more attention to these problems will help fix them.
With reports from Kristy Kirkup, Bill Curry and Menaka Raman-Wilms
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