In explosive testimony before the House Justice Committee, former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould said she experienced “consistent and sustained” pressure from a number of officials to get her to interfere in the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin, that she said involved “veiled threats” and which she characterized as inappropriate.
Wilson-Raybould had refused to ask federal prosecutors to cut a deal with the company, which would’ve allowed them to avoid a criminal trial.
After the Globe and Mail first reported the allegations of improper pressure, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau denied that he directed Wilson-Raybould to take any action on the case, but admitted a few days later that he did discuss it with her. Wilson-Raybould stepped down from her position as veterans’ affairs minister in mid-February, which she had shuffled into in January.
In her opening remarks, Wilson-Raybould told the committee the events involved 11 people from the Prime Minister’s Office, the Privy Council’s Office, and the office of the Minister of Finance, and included in-person conversations, telephone calls and text messages, she said, adding that there were 10 phone calls and 10 meetings about SNC.
She described receiving calls about the matter months after the decision was already made not to offer the company a deferred prosecution agreement, being urged to intervene for political and not policy reasons, as well as comments that she shouldn’t clash with the prime minister on the issue.
Wilson-Raybould said in a meeting that was supposed to be about another issue, Prime Minister Trudeau immediately brought up the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin and asked her to find a solution because there was a risk of the company leaving Montreal and job losses as a result.
When she asked Trudeau if he was directing her on the file, she said he responded, “No, no, we just need to find a solution,” at which point she told him that it would be inappropriate for him to give her direction on the matter.
Wilson-Raybould also alleged that the clerk of the privy council also jumped in to point out that there was an election coming in Quebec, and that SNC had a board meeting coming up.
Finance Minister Bill Morneau also inappropriately pressured Wilson-Raybould, she said, by reminding her during in person-conversations about potential job losses if SNC-Lavalin didn’t get a deferred prosecution agreement, as did Trudeau’s special advisor on Quebec issues Mathieu Bouchard, who told her SNC couldn’t fold ahead of a federal election.
"We can have the best policy in the world but we need to get re-elected," he said, according to Wilson-Raybould.
"In my view the communications and efforts to change my mind on this matter should have stopped. Various officials urged me to take partisan political considerations into account when it was clear improper for me to do," Wilson-Raybould told the committee.
"The persistent and enduring efforts ... raise serious red flags in my view. Yet, this is what continued to happen," she continued.
Since the Globe first reported the allegations, Trudeau’s principal secretary Gerald Butts has also stepped down, and Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion has launched an investigation.
According to Wilson-Raybould, Butts also told her they “needed to find a solution,” and that her chief of staff was later summoned to a meeting with him and Trudeau’s Chief of Staff Katie Telford, in which they asked her where the minister was at with the SNC-Lavalin decision.
Telford allegedly said in the meeting that if Wilson-Raybould was uncomfortable about getting involved, they could “line up people who could write all kinds of op-eds to say what Jody was doing is proper.”
Wilson-Raybould told the committee she believed she was shuffled out of the justice portfolio and into veterans’ affairs “because of the SNC matter,” although the PMO denies it.
“I knew that in my new role, still sitting around the cabinet table, if there was a directive placed in the Gazette I would have resigned immediately from cabinet,” she said — that is, if the new attorney general David Lametti decided to go ahead with a deferred prosecution agreement.
Wilson-Raybould’s testimony comes a day after Trudeau’s cabinet issued an order in council, removing some restrictions and allowing her to speak without violating solicitor-client privilege and cabinet confidentiality. Prior to testifying, however, she expressed concerns that the order didn’t apply to conversations she had during her time as veterans’ affairs minister or in relation to her stepping down from cabinet.
The order was a “step in the right direction” but “falls short of what is required” for the public to learn all the facts, Wilson-Raybould wrote in a letter to chair of the justice committee Anthony Housefather.
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