Wilson-Raybould warns she still can’t tell full SNC-Lavalin story

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office is accused of pressuring Wilson-Raybould

Jody Wilson-Raybould finally gets the chance today to “speak her truth” about the SNC-Lavalin affair, breaking a three-week silence that has fuelled a controversy based, so far, strictly on anonymous allegations of political interference in the justice system.

But the former attorney general is already warning that her hotly anticipated testimony before the House of Commons justice committee won’t tell the whole the story because, she claims, an unprecedented order-in-council waiving solicitor-client privilege and cabinet confidentiality doesn’t go far enough to let her speak freely.

The waiver “is a step in the right direction,” she wrote the committee Tuesday, but it “falls short of what is required.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued the waiver Monday. It covers Wilson-Raybould’s time as justice minister and attorney general — the post she held when his office is alleged to have exerted improper pressure on her last fall to halt the criminal prosecution of Montreal engineering giant SNC-Lavalin on charges of corruption and bribery related to government contracts in Libya.

Wilson-Raybould has cited solicitor-client privilege and cabinet confidentiality repeatedly over the past three weeks to refuse comment on the allegation.

But she now says she needs those restrictions waived not just for the time when she was attorney general, but also for anything that was said or done after she was shuffled on Jan. 14 to the veterans affairs post, including her eventual resignation from cabinet a month later and her presentation to cabinet last week about her reasons for resigning.

“I mention this simply to alert the committee to the fact that the order-in-council leaves in place whatever restraints there are on my ability to speak freely about matters that occurred after I left the post of attorney general,” she told the committee.

She did not explain why events that occurred after she was no longer in a position to do anything about the SNC-Lavalin prosecution would be relevant.

But Conservative deputy leader Lisa Raitt has speculated that it may have been only after Wilson-Raybould was demoted to veterans affairs that she realized she was being punished for refusing to instruct the director of public prosecutions to negotiate a remediation agreement with SNC-Lavalin, a kind of plea bargain that would require the company to pay restitution but avoid the potentially financially crippling impact of a criminal conviction.

Any questioning of Wilson-Raybould along those lines will presumably lead nowhere today. Nevertheless, Wilson-Raybould’s testimony — including a 30-minute opening statement she requested, but complained Tuesday won’t be sufficient time to provide a “full, complete version of event” — should finally provide some details about precisely what the former minister may have deemed improper pressure.

Last week, Privy Council clerk Michael Wernick told the committee that, in his view, everyone in the Prime Minister’s Office conducted themselves with “the highest standards of integrity,” that no inappropriate pressure was put on Wilson-Raybould and that Trudeau repeatedly assured her the decision on the SNC-Lavalin prosecution was hers alone.

He acknowledged, however, that the former minister might have a different interpretation of events and predicted she will zero in on three in particular:

— A Sept. 17 meeting with Trudeau and Wernick, which the clerk said was primarily focused on the stalled Indigenous rights agenda, over which he said Wilson-Raybould had “a very serious policy difference” with Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett and other ministers. During that meeting, held two weeks after the director of public prosecutions had ruled out a remediation agreement for SNC-Lavalin, Wernick said Wilson-Raybould informed the prime minister that she had “no intention of intervening” in the matter, although as attorney general she was legally entitled to give direction to the public prosecutor.

— A Dec. 18 meeting of Trudeau’s chief of staff, Katie Telford, and principal secretary, Gerald Butts, with Wilson-Raybould’s chief of staff, Jessica Prince. Wernick was not present at that meeting and offered no details.

— A Dec. 19 conversation Wernick had with Wilson-Raybould in which he told her Trudeau and other ministers were “quite anxious” about the potential impact of a criminal conviction on the financial viability of SNC-Lavalin and on innocent employees, shareholders, pensioners and third-party suppliers who would suffer as a result. Wernick said he was informing the minister of “context” surrounding her decision on the company but insisted it was not inappropriate pressure.

READ MORE: SNC-Lavalin affair takes toll on Liberal government, says poll

READ MORE: ‘A line … was crossed’ in SNC-Lavalin affair, says New Democrat MP

Wilson-Raybould is also likely to provide her version of a Dec. 5 dinner with Butts, who resigned last week. Butts has confirmed Wilson-Raybould raised the SNC-Lavalin matter briefly and he advised her to speak to Wernick. Butts has insisted that at no time did he apply improper pressure on the former minister.

The waiver given to Wilson-Raybould to speak about her time as attorney general also applies to others in government with whom she spoke about the SNC-Lavalin prosecution. That would allow Butts and other PMO staffers to testify freely if called upon.

So far, the Liberal majority on the justice committee has balked at calling staffers as witnesses, but it may reconsider after hearing from Wilson-Raybould.

Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Number of SD62 kindergarten registrations about same as last year

Approximately 850 kindergarten registrations for 2019/2020 school year

28 years later: Dunahee disappearance remains largest investigation in Victoria police history

The four-year old Victoria boy went missing without a trace on March 24, 1991

City of Langford mails out information on sewer connection requirement

Plan lays out obligations, exemptions and financial assistance information for the costly hookup

Update: BC Transit driver taken to hospital with serious injuries after assault

Driver attempted to stop an altercation between two people on the bus

Protective human chain forms around Victoria mosque for Friday prayer

Islanders stand arm-in-arm to show support in aftermath of New Zealand shootings

‘Families torn apart:’ Truck driver in fatal Broncos crash gets 8-year sentence

Judge Inez Cardinal told court in Melfort, Sask., that Sidhu’s remorse and guilty plea were mitigating factors

Vancouver Island motorists attempted CPR on victim in fatal Highway 4 crash

Collision took place west of Whiskey Creek; man in his 70s died

POLL: When do you think the next major earthquake will hit Vancouver Island?

According to seismologists, Vancouver Island is overdue for a magnitude 7 earthquake.… Continue reading

Greater Victoria Wanted List for the week of March 19

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

WestJet sticking with Boeing 737 Max once planes certified to fly

WestJet had expected to add two more of the planes this year to increase its fleet to 13

B.C. driver caught going 207 km/h on motorcycle along Okanagan Highway

A motorcyclist was caught by Kelowna RCMP going 207 km/h on Highway 97C

Motorcyclist dies after three-vehicle crash on old Island Highway

Accident happened at 12:15 p.m. Friday near Country Club Centre in Nanaimo

B.C. fire department offers tips to keep your home safe during wildfire season

With wildfire season getting closer, the Penticton Fire Dept. offer tips to keep your home safe

Most Read