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On the Record: Jody Wilson-Raybould’s Devastating Testimony on the SNC-Lavalin Scandal

Trudeau tried to pressure justice minister to cut deal to let corporation avoid bribery prosecution, she says.

Tyee Staff 27 Feb

[Editor’s note: Former justice minister and attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould’s testimony before a parliamentary committee Wednesday was unprecedented in its revelations about attempted political interference in the legal system. Here are excerpts from her opening statement.]

For a period of approximately four months between September and December 2018, I experienced 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 in an inappropriate effort to secure a Deferred Prosecution Agreement with SNC-Lavalin. [An agreement would allow SNC-Lavalin to avoid criminal prosecution over allegations it had bribed Libyan officials.] These events involved 11 people… from the Prime Minister’s Office, the Privy Council Office, and the Office of the Minister of Finance.

This included in-person conversations, telephone calls, emails, and text messages… Within these conversations, there were express statements regarding the necessity for interference in the SNC-Lavalin matter, the potential for consequences, and veiled threats if a Deferred Prosecution Agreement was not made available to SNC-Lavalin. These conversations culminated on Dec. 19 with a phone conversation I had with the Clerk of the Privy Council.

A few weeks later, on Jan. 7, I was informed by the prime minister that I was being shuffled out of the role of Minister of Justice and the Attorney General of Canada.

It is well-established that when the AG exercises prosecutorial discretion, she or he does so individually and independently. These are not cabinet decisions. I will say that it is appropriate for cabinet colleagues to draw to the AG’s attention what they see as important public policy considerations that are relevant to decisions about how a prosecution will proceed. What is not appropriate is pressing on the AG matters that she or he cannot take into account, such as partisan political considerations; continuing to urge the AG to change her or his mind for months after the decision has been made; or suggesting that a collision with the prime minister on these matters should be avoided.

[Wilson-Raybould told the committee that on Sept. 4 she received a memo from Director of Public Prosecutions Kathleen Roussel that said her office was not prepared to negotiate an agreement to allow SNC-Lavalin to avoid prosecution.]

I immediately put in motion, within my department and minister’s office, a careful consideration and study of the matter.

Two days later, on Sept. 6, one of the first communications about a Deferred Prosecution Agreement was received from outside our department. Ben Chin, Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s chief of staff, emailed my chief of staff and they arranged to talk. He wanted to talk about SNC and what we could do, if anything, to address this. He said to her that if they don’t get a DPA, they will leave Montreal, and it’s the Quebec election right now, so we can’t have that happen. He said that they have a big meeting coming up on Tuesday and that this bad news may go public…

Further, my view had also formed at this point, through the work of my department, my minister’s office and I had conducted, that it was inappropriate for me to intervene in the decision of the DPP in this case and pursue a Deferred Prosecution Agreement…

Meeting the prime minister

This same day (Sept. 17) I have my one-on-one with the Prime Minister that I requested a couple weeks earlier. When I walked in the Clerk of the Privy Council was in attendance as well.

While the meeting was not about the issue of SNC and DPAs, the PM raised the issue immediately.

The prime minister asks me to help out — to find a solution here for SNC — citing that if there was no DPA there would be many jobs lost and that SNC will move from Montreal.

In response, I explained to him the law and what I have the ability to do and not do under the Director of Public Prosecutions Act around issuing directives or assuming conduct of prosecutions. I told him that I had done my due diligence and made up my mind on SNC and that I was not going to interfere with the decision of the Director of Public Prosecutions…

The PM again cited potential loss of jobs and SNC moving. Then to my surprise — the Clerk started to make the case for the need to have a DPA — he said “there is a board meeting on Thursday (Sept. 20) with stockholders” ... “they will likely be moving to London if this happens”... “and there is an election in Quebec soon”…

At that point the PM jumped in stressing that there is an election in Quebec and that “and I am an MP in Quebec – the member for Papineau.”

I was quite taken aback. My response — and I remember this vividly — was to ask the PM a direct question while looking him in the eye. I asked: “Are you politically interfering with my role / my decision as the AG? I would strongly advise against it.”

The prime minister said “No, No, No — we just need to find a solution.” The Clerk then said that he spoke to my deputy and she said that I could speak to the director.

I responded by saying no I would not — that would be inappropriate. I further explained to the Clerk and the PM that I had a conversation with my DM about options and what my position was on the matter…

Finance minister’s involvement

Still on Sept. 19, I spoke to Minister Morneau on this matter when we were in the House. He again stressed the need to save jobs, and I told him that engagements from his office to mine on SNC had to stop — that they were inappropriate…

This would become a recurring theme for some time in messages from the PMO — that an external review should be done of the DPP’s decision.

The next day as well, SNC-Lavalin filed a Federal Court application seeking to quash the DPP’s decision to not enter into a remediation agreement with them.

In my view, this necessarily put to rest any notion that I might speak to or intervene with the DPP, or that an external review could take place. The matter was now before the courts, and a judge was being asked to look at the DPP’s discretion…

I will briefly pause at this moment to comment on my own state of mind at this point. In my role as AG, I had received the decision of the DPP in September, had reviewed the matter, made a decision on what was appropriate given a DPA, and communicated that to the prime minister. I had also taken additional steps that the prime minister asked me to — such as meeting with the Clerk.

In my view, the communications and efforts to change my mind on this matter should have stopped. Various officials also urged me to take partisan political considerations into account, which it was clearly improper for me to do... We either have a system that is based on the rule of law, the independence of the prosecutorial functions, and respect for those charged to use their discretion and powers in particular ways — or we do not. While in our system of government policy oriented discussion amongst people at earlier points in this conversation may be appropriate, the consistent and enduring efforts, even in the face of judicial proceedings on the same matter — and in the face of a clear decision of the DPP and the AG — to continue and even intensify such efforts raises serious red flags in my view. Yet, this is what continued to happen.

On Dec. 5, I met with Gerry Butts . We had both sought out the meeting. I wanted to speak about a number of things — including bringing up SNC and the barrage of people hounding me and my staff.

Towards the end of the meeting I raised how I needed everyone to stop talking to me about SNC as I had made up my mind and the engagements were inappropriate. Gerry then took over the conversation and said how we need a solution on the SNC stuff — he said I needed to find a solution. I said no…

This brings us to the final events in the chronology, and ones which signal, in my experience, the final escalation in efforts by the PMO to interfere in this matter. On Dec. 18, my COS was urgently summoned to meet with Gerry Butts and Katie Telford to discuss SNC-Lavalin. They wanted to know where I am in terms of finding a solution. They told her that they felt like the issue was getting worse and that I was not doing anything. They referenced a possible call with the PM and the Clerk the next day…

On Dec. 19, I was asked to have a call with the Clerk — it was a fairly lengthy call and I took the call at home and I was alone. Given what had occurred the previous day with my Chief of Staff I was determined to end all interference and conversations about this matter once and for all. Here is part of what the Clerk and I discussed…

The Clerk said he was calling about Deferred Prosecution Agreement and SNC-Lavalin — he said he wanted to pass on where the prime minister is at... he spoke about the company’s board and the possibility of them selling out to somebody else, moving their headquarters, and job losses.

He said that the PM wants to be able to say that he has tried everything he can within the legitimate toolbox. The Clerk said that the PM is quite determined, quite firm but he wants to know why the DPA route which Parliament provided for isn’t being used. He said ‘I think he is gonna find a way to get it done one way or another. So, he is in that kinda mood and I wanted you to be aware of that.’…

I told the Clerk that I was 100-per-cent confident that I was doing nothing inappropriate. I, again, reiterated I am confident in where I am at on my views on SNC and the DPA have not changed — this is a constitutional principle of prosecutorial independence.

I warned the Clerk that we were treading on dangerous ground here — and I issued a stern warning because as the AG, I cannot act in a manner and the prosecution cannot act in a manner that is not objective, that isn’t independent, I cannot act in a partisan way and I cannot be politically motivated. And all of this screams of that…

Thoughts of Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre

The Clerk told me that he was going to have to report back to the PM before he leaves… he said again that the PM was in a pretty firm frame of mind about this and that he was a bit worried…

I asked what he was worried about.

The Clerk then made a comment about how it is not good for the Prime Minister and his Attorney General to be a ‘loggerheads’.

I told the Clerk that I was giving him my best advice and if he does not accept that advice then it is the PM’s prerogative to do what he wants... But I am trying to protect the prime minister from political interference or perceived political interference or otherwise…

I said that I was having thoughts of the Saturday Night Massacre — but that I was confident that I had given the prime minister my best advice to protect him and to protect the constitutional principle of prosecutorial independence.

The Clerk said that he was worried about a collision because the PM is pretty firm about this… He told me that he had seen the PM a few hours ago and that this is really important to him…

On Jan. 7, I received a call from the PM and was informed I was being shuffled out of my role as justice minister and attorney general. I stated I believed the reason was because of the SNC matter. They denied this to be the case…

On Jan. 11, 2019 — the Friday before the shuffle — my former deputy minister is called by the Clerk and told that the shuffle is happening, and that she will be getting a new minister. As part of this conversation, the Clerk tells the deputy that one of the first conversations that the new minister will be expected to have with the PM will be on SNC Lavalin…

Acting independently of partisan, political, and narrow interests

I imagine Canadians now fully understand that in my view these events constituted pressure to intervene in a matter, and that this pressure — or political interference — to intervene was not appropriate. However, Canadians can judge this for themselves as we all now have the same information.

Lastly, as I have said previously, “it has always been my view that the Attorney General of Canada must be non-partisan, more transparent in the principles that are the basis of decisions, and, in this respect, always willing to speak truth to power.” In saying this I was reflecting what I understand to be the vital importance of the rule of law and prosecutorial independence in our democracy.

My understanding of this has been shaped by some lived experience. I am, of course, a lawyer. I was a prosecutor on the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver. So I come to this view as a professional trained and committed to certain values as key to our system of order.

But my understanding of the rule of law has also been shaped by my experience as an Indigenous person and leader. The history of Crown-Indigenous relations in this country includes a history of the rule of law not being respected. Indeed, one of the main reasons for the urgent need for justice and reconciliation today is that in the history of our country we have not always upheld foundational values such as the rule of law in our relations with Indigenous peoples. And I have seen the negative impacts for freedom, equality, and a just society this can have firsthand.

So when I pledged to serve Canadians as your minister of justice and attorney general I came to it with a deeply ingrained commitment to the rule of law and the importance of acting independently of partisan, political, and narrow interests in all matters. When we do not do that, I firmly believe, and know, we do worse as a society.

I will conclude by saying this. I was taught to always be careful of what you say — because you cannot take it back — and I was taught to always hold true to your core values and principles and to act with integrity. These are the teachings of my parents, grandparents and community. I come from a long line of matriarchs and I am a truth teller in accordance with the laws and traditions of our Big House — this is who I am and who I will always be.

Gilakas’la / Thank you.  [Tyee]

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