Former attorney-general Jody Wilson-Raybould has agreed to testify in televised parliamentary hearings on Wednesday, but is expressing disappointment that a cabinet order permitting her to speak without violating solicitor-client privilege and cabinet confidentiality does not apply to conversations that took place while she was veterans affairs minister or in relation to her resignation from cabinet.
Ms. Wilson-Raybould takes centre stage Wednesday on Parliament Hill in an extraordinary session of the Commons justice committee in which MPs and the public will hear the former justice minister and attorney-general testify about pressure from her own government to abandon the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin Group Inc.
In a letter on Tuesday to Liberal MP Anthony Housefather – chair of the justice committee, which is probing the matter – Ms. Wilson-Raybould said the removal of some of the constraints on what she can say is a “step in the right direction” but "falls far short of what is required” for Canadians to learn all the facts.
The cabinet order “addresses only my time as attorney-general of Canada and therefore does nothing to release me from any restrictions that apply to communications while I served as minister of veterans affairs and in relation to my resignation from that post or my presentation to cabinet after I had resigned," she wrote.
Ms. Wilson-Raybould noted she is in fact being restricted from speaking about "communications on topics that some members of the committee have explored with other witnesses and about which there have been public statements by others.”
SNC-Lavalin faces one charge of corruption under the Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act and one charge of fraud under the Criminal Code. It is alleged that SNC paid millions of dollars in bribes to public officials in Libya between 2001 and 2011 to secure government contracts. The engineering company says executives who were responsible for the wrongdoing have left the company, and it has reformed ethics and compliance rules.
If convicted, SNC-Lavalin could be banned from bidding on federal contracts for up to 10 years.
Michael Wernick, the Clerk of the Privy Council and Canada’s top bureaucrat, told the justice committee last week that Ms. Wilson-Raybould was warned several times about the economic consequences of a criminal conviction of SNC-Lavalin, but he denied she was subjected to “inappropriate pressure” to shelve the prosecution. The Prime Minister has also said there was no political interference in the SNC-Lavalin case and that he was puzzled by Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s resignation.
In her letter on Tuesday, the former minister said she was grateful the justice committee granted her request for 30 minutes to deliver an opening statement on Wednesday afternoon, but added that even this is not sufficient to provide a “full complete version of events.”
Wednesday will be the first time Ms. Wilson-Raybould has spoken about what transpired behind the scenes since The Globe and Mail reported on Feb. 7 that the Prime Minister’s Office put pressure on her to drop the case against SNC-Lavalin in exchange for fines and an admission of wrongdoing known as a deferred prosecution agreement.
Since the Globe report, Ms. Wilson-Raybould resigned from cabinet, and Gerald Butts stepped down as Mr. Trudeau’s principal secretary. Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion has launched an inquiry.
After three weeks of political controversy, the Trudeau cabinet issued an order-in-council late Monday evening waiving some constraints that would have prevented the B.C. MP from speaking more freely. She is still prevented from discussing her conversations with Kathleen Roussel, the director of the Public Prosecution Service of Canada, regarding the SNC-Lavalin prosecution.
On Tuesday, the Prime Minister said Ms. Wilson-Raybould deserves an opportunity to speak to the justice committee.
“It is important that people get an opportunity to testify or share their point of view with the committee. As we said, waiving privilege, waiving cabinet confidentiality is something that we had to take very seriously,” Mr. Trudeau told reporters on his way into a cabinet meeting.
The order-in-council also frees anyone else in government who discussed this matter with Ms. Wilson-Raybould to speak to the committee. This would allow others, including Mr. Trudeau’s chief of staff, Katie Telford, and Mr. Butts, to respond to her testimony.
Mr. Housefather said no decision has been made on whether Mr. Butts or Ms. Telford would be called.
Ms. Roussel told SNC-Lavalin on Sept. 4, 2018, that she had turned down its request for a negotiated settlement without trial. Ms. Wilson-Raybould later declined to override that decision and direct the prosecution service to stay the court proceedings. It is not known why Ms. Roussel rejected a negotiated settlement.
Mr. Wernick testified last week that the former attorney-general may have felt pressure to “get it right” regarding SNC-Lavalin, but denied that anything he or others said was “inappropriate pressure.”
The Privy Council Clerk listed three high-level conversations about which he believed Ms. Wilson-Raybould had concerns, including a Sept. 17 meeting with himself and Mr. Trudeau. When Ms. Wilson-Raybould said she would not intervene in the case, Mr. Wernick said the Prime Minister told her she was the “decision-maker.”
Ms. Telford and Mr. Butts discussed the SNC-Lavalin prosecution on Dec. 18 with the justice minister’s chief of staff, Jessica Prince. The next day, Dec. 19, Mr. Wernick called Ms. Wilson-Raybould to say the Prime Minister was “anxious” about the company’s fate.
On Jan. 14, Ms. Wilson-Raybould was demoted to veterans affairs in a cabinet shuffle.
“They tried to get the former attorney-general to change her mind. She said no. She said no on multiple occasions,” Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer told the Commons Question Period on Tuesday. “Apparently, people in the Prime Minister’s Office would not take no for an answer.”