'A line … was crossed' in SNC-Lavalin affair, says New Democrat MP

Gwen Vasquez
March 1, 2019

The Angus Reid Institute found 66 per cent of those surveyed hold that view, with 59 per cent indicating their opinion of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has worsened since reports surfaced that Wilson-Raybould faced pressure to intervene in the prosecution of the Quebec-based engineering giant.

Former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould on Wednesday said she was pressured into being lenient to SNC-Lavalin who were facing a bribery trial.

Wilson-Raybould resigned from cabinet several days after allegations against the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) emerged, and little more than a month after she was shuffled from the justice office to veterans affairs.

In response to her testimony, Trudeau said he completely disagrees with how Wilson-Raybould characterized the events, and maintained that he and his staff "always acted appropriately and professionally".

Trudeau largely waived lawyer-client privilege to allow Wilson-Raybould to speak and said Tuesday that he's "pleased" she will get that opportunity.

However, in a letter to the committee Tuesday, Wilson-Raybould warned that the waiver "falls short of what is required" for her to fully tell her side of the story.

That seems to be settled now after an order-in-council published late Monday lifted the protections on all her conversations about SNC-Lavalin other than those she had with the director of public prosecutions.

The former minister requested 30 minutes for an opening statement which the committee has accepted.

- A September 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.

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Wilson-Raybould said she reacted by looking him in the eye and asking, "Are you politically interfering with my role, my decision as the attorney general?" Trudeau and other officials insist there was no wrongdoing.

Wilson-Raybould resigned from the Cabinet on February 12 as veteran affairs minister but gave no reasons.

Gerald Butts, a top advisor for Trudeau and long-time friend, also resigned in the wake of the controversy surrounding the PMO and possible interference. Remediation agreements are a kind of plea bargain that would require the company to pay restitution but avoid the potentially crippling impact of a criminal conviction.

"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 wrote.

The Conservative leader also called for Wernick to resign and encouraged the Liberal cabinet, which is scheduled to present a federal budget next month, to find a way to govern the country in a non-partisan way without the prime minister.

She said she didn't speak directly to Trudeau about SNC-Lavalin again until January 7, when he informed her he was about to move her out of the justice portfolio; she suggested the move was the result of her refusal to intervene in the prosecution, which he denied.

Wilson-Raybould detailed instances of what she considered inappropriate pressure by Finance Minister Bill Morneau's chief of staff and others but said the pressure campaign escalated over the fall, even after SNC-Lavalin went to court to challenge Roussel's rejection of a remediation agreement.

- A December 18 meeting of Butts and Trudeau's chief of staff, Katie Telford, with Wilson-Raybould's chief of staff, Jessica Prince.

According to Wilson-Raybould, Wernick told her that Trudeau wanted to know why SNC-Lavalin was not being offered a remediation agreement. If the committee wants to call certain witnesses the committee members can decide who they want to hear from, he said.

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