Former justice minister and attorney-general Jody Wilson-Raybould met with RCMP investigators this week to discuss political interference in the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin Group Inc., and is calling on the Trudeau government to waive cabinet confidentiality for her and all other witnesses to allow a thorough probe into potential obstruction of justice.
Ms. Wilson-Raybould told The Globe and Mail on Wednesday that RCMP officers from the national division in Ottawa, which handles sensitive political matters, had a formal interview with her in Vancouver on Tuesday.
“I have had a meeting and I have been interviewed by the RCMP, and that meeting happened yesterday [Tuesday], and I am not going to comment any further on the nature of those conversations,” she said. “Of course I am concerned about the government’s decision to deny [the RCMP’s] request for access to other witnesses. As a matter of principle, the RCMP should be able to conduct thorough and necessary investigations.”
Ms. Wilson-Raybould said the meeting was at the request of the RCMP after several telephone conversations with her following the release of a report from Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion in August.
Mr. Dion said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau violated the Conflict of Interest Act when he and senior officials improperly pressed Ms. Wilson-Raybould to order the Public Prosecution Service to settle a fraud and bribery case against the Montreal-based engineering and construction giant.
Ms. Wilson-Raybould spoke to the RCMP last spring, but at the time, said she did not believe a crime had taken place. She now believes the case needs to be re-examined in light of Mr. Dion’s report.
“I believe the public deserves to know and to have full knowledge of this matter,” Ms. Wilson-Raybould said.
Mr. Dion said in his report that the government refused to waive cabinet confidentiality for nine witnesses who said they had relevant information about allegations of political interference in the SNC-Lavalin prosecution.
The RCMP are facing the same situation as Mr. Dion did. The government says Privy Council Clerk Ian Shugart, who reports to Mr. Trudeau, will not waive cabinet confidentiality to allow the national police force to speak to witnesses and obtain cabinet documents relating to SNC-Lavalin.
The Liberal Leader rejected a call from Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer on Wednesday to allow anyone with knowledge of the SNC-Lavalin matter to discuss it freely with the RCMP.
Emerging from Rideau Hall after the issuing of the writs for a federal election on Oct. 21, Mr. Trudeau said the decision was Mr. Shugart’s alone.
“We respect the decisions made by our professional public servants," he said. "We respect the decision made by the Clerk.”
Mr. Scheer said in Trois-Rivières, Que., that it is within the power of the Prime Minister to offer a full waiver to the RCMP.
“He is not telling the truth when he says that it is not his decision," Mr. Scheer said. "It is his decision. He has the power. He needs to stop hiding behind the Clerk of the Privy Council, take some responsibility, waive that privilege and let the RCMP do their job.”
University of Ottawa law professor Yan Campagnolo said in an academic article on cabinet confidentiality that voluntary disclosure of cabinet documents must be “authorized by the Governor-in-council [cabinet] pursuant to the recommendation of the Prime Minister.”
Former Liberal cabinet minister Jane Philpott, who stepped down after Ms. Wilson-Raybould resigned from cabinet over the SNC-Lavalin matter, said she would like to speak to the national police, but wants Mr. Trudeau to waive cabinet confidentiality.
“From what I understand about the initiative that they are undertaking, I believe that I have information that would be relevant,” Ms. Philpott said in an interview. “It is information that is subject to cabinet confidentiality, and so I, of course, would need that to be waived in order to be able to speak with them.”
The RCMP has not officially launched a criminal investigation. The force has said it is “examining this matter carefully with all available information.” It will pause the operation during the election campaign.
Ms. Philpott and Ms. Wilson-Raybould are running as Independents. They were ejected from the Liberal caucus in April.
Mr. Trudeau told reporters the government offered the “largest and most expansive waiver of cabinet confidence in Canada’s history.” An order in council dated Feb. 25 offered a waiver to Ms. Wilson-Raybould and “any persons who directly participated in discussions with her” about the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin during her time as attorney-general. She was moved to Veterans Affairs on Jan. 14.
However, the public inquiry into the sponsorship scandal in 2004-05 received unconditional access to hundreds of pages of cabinet documents and heard testimony from all the ministers involved in deliberations on the national-unity initiative.
That inquiry’s final report said: “Ordinarily, cabinet deliberations are secret and privileged, but the government agreed to waive this privilege by two orders-in-council which permitted a full inquiry to be made of the question of how certain decisions were reached when the sponsorship program was first conceived.”
Shortly after the release of the report into the sponsorship scandal in the fall of 2005, the minority government of Paul Martin was defeated in the House of Commons. Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party came to power after the general election of January, 2006.
The Trudeau government’s waiver allowed Ms. Wilson-Raybould to talk to the House of Commons justice committee and the Ethics Commissioner, but did not extend to events after she was moved or discussions involving other individuals.
The Ethics Commissioner found that a number of discussions between members of the Prime Minister’s Office, ministerial staffers and officials at SNC-Lavalin were conducted without Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s knowledge and therefore were not covered by the waiver.
A spokeswoman for the Liberal campaign, Zita Astravas, said the waiver in the SNC-Lavalin matter was unprecedented because the four other orders issued after 1987 did not include solicitor-client privilege. The attorney-general provides legal advice to the government, therefore such conversations are covered by solicitor-client privilege.
Asked on Tuesday if she talked to the RCMP about discussions she had with Mr. Trudeau and his officials after she was shuffled out of the justice portfolio, a time frame for which she remains subject to cabinet confidentiality, Ms. Wilson-Raybould said: “I really can’t talk about discussions I had with the police.”
Ms. Wilson-Raybould and Ms. Philpott also disputed Mr. Trudeau’s assertion that the Privy Council Clerk made the decision to deny the RCMP unfettered access to witnesses and cabinet documents.
“The final decision in matters like this is in the hands of the Prime Minister,” Ms. Wilson-Raybould said.
Ms. Philpott said: “The Clerk is responsible to the Prime Minister and he is there to advise the Prime Minister fearlessly, but also to loyally execute the wishes of the Prime Minister.”
Section 139 of the Criminal Code states a person who “wilfully attempts in any manner to obstruct, pervert or defeat the course of justice in a judicial proceeding” is guilty of obstruction of justice.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said Mr. Trudeau is giving excuses while the RCMP is being denied access to information.
“Canadians want to know the truth,” Mr. Singh said in London, Ont. “Right now, it seems that more and more barriers are being put up by the Prime Minister. He’s got to answer for that. I would hold a public inquiry. I would ensure that all the confidentiality was waived so that anyone who wants to come forward who has information about this scandal could come forward.”
Mr. Scheer said the issue is not whether the SNC-Lavalin matter will affect public opinion polls but whether Mr. Trudeau deserves a second mandate in government.
“We have been telling Canadians and showing Canadians how Justin Trudeau has consistently misled them," Mr. Scheer said. "He has lied, he has looked Canadians in the eye and said things that he knew were not true. We made the case he has lost the moral authority to govern. What today shows is that you just cannot trust Justin Trudeau. He will say anything to cover up his scandals and will say anything to get re-elected.”
With a report from Kristy Kirkup