Wilson-Raybould says she faced political pressure, ‘veiled threats’ on SNC-Lavalin; PM urged her to ‘help out’

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  • February 27, 2019
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Jody Wilson-Raybould says she faced intense political pressure and veiled threats related to the SNC-Lavalin affair, and was warned directly by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about the negative consequences if the Quebec-based company faced prosecution.

Testifying at the Commons justice committee probing alleged political interference in the prosecution of the Montreal-based engineering and construction company, Wilson-Raybould said she was contacted by 11 officials in the Prime Minister’s Office and the Privy Council Office on the matter when she served as justice minister and attorney general.

“For a period of four months from September to December 2018, I experience a consistent and sustained effort by many people within the government to seek to politically interfere in the exercise of prosecutorial discretion in my role as the attorney general of Canada in an inappropriate effort to secure a Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA) with SNC-Lavalin.”

Wilson-Raybould said she was “hounded” by various officials through phone calls, meetings and text messages.

“Within these conversations there were express statements regarding the necessity of interfering in the SNC-Lavalin matter, the potential of consequences, and veiled threats if a DPA was not made available to SNC-Lavalin,” she said.

She chronicled a series of meetings, including one with Trudeau and Privy Council clerk Michael Wernick on Sept. 17, 2018. She told him that she had made a decision not to overturn the decision from the director of the Public Prosecution Service to proceed with criminal prosecution against SNC-Lavalin.

The prime minister cited potential job losses and the possible move by the company, and asked her to “help out.” The clerk then made the case for a DPA and reminded there was an election coming in Quebec.

“At that point, the prime minister jumped in, stressing that there is an election in Quebec, and that, ‘I am an MP in Quebec, the MP for Papineau,'” she recounted. ‘I was quite taken aback.”

At that point, Wilson-Raybould said, she posed a direct question to Trudeau while looking him straight in the eye, asking if he was politically interfering with her role and her decision as the attorney general.

“I would strongly advise against it,” she told the committee she warned Trudeau, who responded, “No, no, no, we just need to find a solution.”

“Are you politically interfering with my role as the attorney general,” Wilson-Raybould says he asked Trudeau. “I would strongly advise against it.” 1:15

Wilson-Raybould is finally making her much-anticipated appearance as the key witness for the Commons justice committee in a packed room on Parliament Hill.

Story continues after the live blog:

She is making a 30-minute opening statement before taking questions from committee members on the alleged political interference in the prosecution of the Montreal-based engineering and construction company. CBCNews.ca is carrying it live.

Earlier today, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau insisted that Wilson-Raybould can “speak fully” about the SNC-Lavalin affair, contrary to the claim by Canada’s former justice minister that she is constrained despite a confidentiality waiver from the Liberal government.

“I experienced a consistent and sustained effort by many people within the gov’t to seek to politically interfere in the exercise of prosecutorial discretion…” 1:08

Wilson-Raybould wrote to the committee chair Liberal MP Anthony Housefather late Tuesday to say the parameters outlined in Monday’s waiver would not allow her to speak freely.

Heading into the weekly Liberal caucus meeting Wednesday, Trudeau said the government took an “unprecedented step” of waiving cabinet confidentiality and solicitor-client privilege to shed light on the issue.

“We know that people need to understand her perspective on this. We know the justice committee needs that to do their work,” he said.

“What is not appropriate is pressing the attorney general on matters that she or he cannot take into account such as partisan political considerations …” 1:10

Asked if Wilson-Raybould would be able to explain her resignation from his cabinet, Trudeau did not answer directly.

He said the intention of the waiver is to allow her to address questions of whether or not she underwent inappropriate pressure as attorney general to override the decision to proceed with prosecution against SNC-Lavalin on bribery charges related to contracts in Libya.

“She will be able to speak fully to that,” he said.

Broad waiver to speak

Wilson-Raybould obtained a broad waiver from the Prime Minister’s Office on Monday that allows her to disclose details of her conversations with government officials about the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin.

In an order-in-council (OIC) posted online Monday, the government said Wilson-Raybould — “and any persons who directly participated in discussions with her relating to the exercise of her authority under the Director of Public Prosecutions Act respecting the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin” — can report to both the committee and the federal ethics commissioner any cabinet confidences “in any information or communications that were directly discussed with her respecting the exercise of that authority while she held that office.”

But in the letter to Housefather, Wilson-Raybould said the OIC only addresses her time as attorney general and does not release her from restrictions on communications while she served as minister of Veterans Affairs, and related to her resignation from the post and her presentation to cabinet after she quit.

Justice Minister and Attorney General David Lametti, who provided advice on the waiver to the prime minister, was asked Wednesday why Wilson-Raybould would not be permitted to speak about her time as veterans affairs minister and about her resignation from cabinet.

“She is addressing the question of pressure while she was minister of justice,” he said.

The allegations, first reported by the Globe and Mail Feb. 7, were that Wilson-Raybould faced pressure as attorney general, a role that requires independent decisions without political pressure.

PMO staffers Mathieu Bouchard and Elder Marques were “kicking the tires, I said no, my mind had been made up and they needed to stop, this was enough,” Wilson-Raybould said. 0:41

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said others, including Privy Council clerk Michael Wernick, have been able to explain their version of events in great detail. He said it’s “unacceptable” Trudeau is not allowing Wilson-Raybould to give a full accounting of her side of the story.

“Canadians are tired of this coverup. He has the power to allow Ms. Wilson-Raybould to give a full and comprehensive accounting of all the details, everything that happened, from the time the director of public prosecutions made her decision [to proceed with criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin] to the time that she resigned from cabinet,” he said.

“Canadians have a right to know.”

Trudeau faced a barrage of questions during today’s question period about attempts to “silence” the former attorney general. He accused the Opposition Conservatives of playing “petty politics,”

Wernick testified last week that he warned Wilson-Raybould about the economic “consequences” of prosecuting SNC-Lavalin, including heavy job losses, but insisted there was never any “inappropriate pressure” put on her to override the prosecution service’s decision. The clerk also told her that the prime minister and others in the government were “anxious” about the impact of prosecution.

Wilson-Raybould will begin her testimony with a 30-minute opening statement before taking questions from committee members.

CBC News coverage of today’s testimony

Power & Politics with Vassy Kapelos will have special coverage of today’s committee appearance by Jody Wilson-Raybould starting at 2 p.m. ET on CBC News Network. You can also watch P&P‘s special coverage starting at 3:30 p.m. ET on cbcnews.caYouTubeTwitter and Facebook and follow our live blog and updated stories at cbc.ca/politics.

And tune in to World at 6 on Radio One and The National tonight at 10 p.m. on CBC Television for more news and analysis on today’s events.