The Liberal-dominated House of Commons justice committee shut down opposition parties’ attempt on Wednesday to recall former attorney-general Jody Wilson-Raybould for further testimony about the pressure exerted on her to abandon the fraud and bribery prosecution of engineering and construction giant SNC-Lavalin Group Inc.
Half an hour into an emergency meeting of the justice committee, Liberal MPs used their majority to adjourn without holding a vote on whether to recall Ms. Wilson-Raybould, drawing cries of “shame,” “despicable” and “cover-up” from opposition MPs.
Wednesday’s meeting came one week after Liberal MPs on the committee blocked a previous effort by opposition parties to invite Ms. Wilson-Raybould back for a second round of testimony. Instead, the Liberals voted at that time to reconvene March 19 – which also happens to be the release date of the 2019 federal budget – to consider whom they will call next for testimony.
Conservative MP Michael Cooper said next Tuesday’s meeting will happen behind closed doors. Although much of the testimony on the SNC-Lavalin issue has happened in public, the committee usually goes in camera to decide who it will call as witnesses.
“It’s part of the cover-up,” Mr. Cooper told reporters. “They don’t want Canadians to hear their arguments against letting her [Ms. Wilson-Raybould] speak because, frankly, they are not good ones.”
NDP MP Tracey Ramsey accused the Liberals of trying to hide behind Parliamentary procedure with their vote to adjourn the meeting.
“What does this say to Canadians? That they have something to hide. If they didn’t have something to hide, we would have had the debate today,” Ms. Ramsey said.
Some Liberal MPs left through the committee room’s backdoor after Wednesday’s meeting, avoiding questions from the media. Liberal MP Francis Drouin would say only that possible witnesses will be discussed next week.
The committee began hearings into the SNC-Lavalin affair several weeks after The Globe and Mail reported on Feb. 7 that senior federal officials put pressure on Ms. Wilson-Raybould to override the public prosecutor’s decision to deny the Montreal company a negotiated settlement.
In ensuing weeks, the Liberals have used their majority to restrict witnesses called – defeating opposition efforts to call people such as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s chief of staff, Katie Telford, and senior PMO advisers Elder Marques and Mathieu Bouchard, as well as Jessica Prince, former chief of staff to Ms. Wilson-Raybould. The Liberals have also thwarted opposition efforts to require witnesses be sworn in before testifying, and stopped Conservative and NDP attempts to require the production of all e-mails and text messages sent between the PMO and committee witnesses.
Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre vowed the opposition will use "every tool in the parliamentary toolkit in order to pressure the government and the Prime Minister to stop his cover-up and let Jody Wilson-Raybould speak.”
One opposition source said an option under discussion is to have the Conservative chair of the Commons Ethics committee ask Ms. Wilson-Raybould to testify at one of its meetings.
Ms. Wilson-Raybould had no immediate comment on the move by Liberals on Wednesday, but the B.C. MP said last week that she would be willing to testify again before the justice committee.
On Feb. 27, Ms. Wilson-Raybould told the committee she faced “consistent and sustained” political pressure from Mr. Trudeau and senior officials to shelve the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin in favour of an-out-of-court settlement known as a deferred prosecution agreement. She agreed to testify after the government issued an order that waived solicitor-client privilege and cabinet confidentiality during her time as justice minister and attorney-general.
In a statement last week, Ms. Wilson-Raybould said she wants the Prime Minister to give her another waiver to talk about the period between her demotion to Veterans Affairs in early January and her resignation from cabinet on Feb. 11.
Ms. Wilson-Raybould has noted that she is restricted in speaking about topics on which public statements have been made. Mr. Trudeau, for instance, has discussed conversations he had with her when she was veterans affairs minister.
Last week, the Prime Minister told journalists he came away from a Sept. 17 meeting believing Ms. Wilson-Raybould was still open to considering a deferred prosecution agreement for SNC-Lavalin. “I asked her if she could revisit that decision, if she was open to considering, to looking at it once again. And she said that she would,” he said March 7.
But Ms. Wilson-Raybould testified that Sept. 17 was the day she told Mr. Trudeau to back off and that she had made her decision.
“I told him that I had done my due diligence and had made up my mind on SNC and that I was not going to interfere with the decision of the director [of public prosecutions],” she told the justice committee.
She said she agreed, at the Prime Minister’s request, to talk to Privy Council Clerk Michael Wernick and her deputy minister, but assured him at the same meeting "that these conversations would not change my mind. "
Canada’s deputy justice minister, Nathalie Drouin, who is a public servant, offered high praise for Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s “strong character” last week. She said her former boss firmly told her on Sept. 19 that “this would be the last time we discussed the SNC-Lavalin matter.”
Last week, Mr. Trudeau’s former principal secretary Gerald Butts and Mr. Warnick told the committee they did not feel Ms. Wilson-Raybould was subjected to inappropriate pressure to overrule the federal prosecutor and settle with SNC-Lavalin out of court. Mr. Butts also denied that Ms. Wilson-Raybould was removed as justice minister because of her refusal to order negotiations with the engineering company.
Since The Globe report on Feb. 7, Ms. Wilson-Raybould has resigned from cabinet and Mr. Butts stepped down. Jane Philpott, one of Mr. Trudeau’s star ministers, resigned as Treasury Board president, saying she had lost confidence in how the government handled the SNC-Lavalin matter.
Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion has launched an inquiry, and Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has written to the RCMP to ask for a criminal investigation into possible obstruction of justice.
Opposition MPs have warned that the Liberals risk damaging Canada’s international reputation by refusing to allow Ms. Wilson-Raybould another opportunity to testify.
Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Wernick have cited preventing job losses and other economic consequences as the motive for pressing Ms. Wilson-Raybould to settle with SNC-Lavalin.
The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has warned it is monitoring the Canadian government to ensure it lives up to its obligations under its anti-bribery convention to safeguard judicial independence in the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin, which is related to its business dealings in Libya.
Drago Kos, who heads the OECD Working Group on Bribery, told The Globe Monday the decision to prosecute SNC-Lavalin should be left to the director of public prosecutions, Kathleen Roussel, and that potential job losses should not be a consideration in granting a deferred prosecution.