Former attorney-general and justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould fielded more than three hours worth of questioning from members of the House of Commons justice committee Wednesday after her opening testimony in which she said she was subjected to sustained and co-ordinated pressure to intervene in the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin Group Inc.
Conservative and New Democrat members of the justice committee expressed their appreciation of Ms. Wilson-Raybould for coming forward with her account of events, while her Liberal colleagues peppered her with questions about why she chose to stay on in her role if she felt uncomfortable.
Deputy Conservative leader Lisa Raitt and NDP MP Murray Rankin told Ms. Wilson-Raybould that they believed every word she said and praised her courage for speaking out.
In the first round of questioning, Ms. Raitt asked Ms. Wilson-Raybould, "Do you believe, for the record, that you were removed as the attorney-general because you spoke truth to power on the topic of the SNC ongoing prosecution?”
Ms. Wilson-Raybould said she thinks it’s apparent from her opening remarks that she was concerned that she was shuffled out of justice and into veterans affairs because she decided she “would not take on SNC and the DPA.” Her response refers to a deferred prosecution agreement, under which the company would accept responsibility for the wrongdoing and pay a financial penalty, relinquish benefits gained from the wrongdoing and put in place compliance measures.
"I raised those concerns with the Prime Minister and with Gerry Butts … and those were denied.”
Mr. Butts resigned as the Prime Minister’s principal secretary on Feb. 18., rejecting any suggestion that he or anyone in the Prime Minister’s Office put pressure on Ms. Wilson-Raybould.
Ms. Raitt also asked if it was fair to make the assumption that the comments and continued pressure made Ms. Wilson-Raybould fear for her job.
“I’m not going to speak to the intention of other individuals. I will speak to the very heightened level of anxiety that I had that increased and culminated in my discussions with the clerk on December the 19th.”
The December meeting Ms. Wilson-Raybould referenced was one of three meetings with Privy Council Clerk Michael Wernick.
New Democrat MP Nathan Cullen picked up on an earlier line of questioning from Ms. Raitt. He asked Ms. Wilson-Raybould to confirm whether, in being asked to issue a directive on a specific case, she was being asked to do something “historic."
“That’s correct,” Ms. Wilson-Raybould said. “An attorney-general has never issued a specific direction in a specific prosecution, nor has a attorney-general in this country ever issued a directive, or sorry rather taken over a prosecution. It would be historic. For the first time."
Mr. Cullen said he was confused by the line of inquiry coming from his Liberal colleagues, saying they were “questioning” Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s integrity for not quitting.
“I thought your integrity was enhanced by not quitting, by staying there, and as you’ve just said, maintaining the rule of law,” he said.
Questioning intensified toward the final hours of committee when Liberal MPs grilled Ms. Wilson-Raybould, their fellow caucus member.
Liberal MP Randy Boissonnault, who last week suggested that opposition members were conducting a “witch hunt” in their search for answers, asked Ms. Wilson-Raybould if she still has “confidence” in the Prime Minister today.
After a long sigh, Ms. Wilson-Raybould said she is not going to get into conversations about why she resigned, adding, "I resigned from cabinet because I did not have confidence to sit around the table – the cabinet table – that’s why I resigned.”
At one point, Ms. Raitt asked Ms. Wilson-Raybould how she felt about how she was treated.
“It makes me very sad when – and this isn’t about me personally, it’s about the work that I was able to do with an extraordinary group when I was the Minister of Justice and Attorney General – being impugned publicly.”