OTTAWA—Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he’s “pleased” that former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould will be able to tell her version of events around allegations she was pressured over the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin.
On Monday, the government formally waived cabinet confidence and solicitor-client privilege for Wilson-Raybould for discussions she had on SNC-Lavalin, clearing the way for her to testify to the Commons’ justice committee and speaks to the federal ethics commissioner.
“It is important that people get an opportunity to testify or share their point of view with the committee. As we said, waiving privilege, waiving cabinet confidentiality is something that we had to take very seriously but I’m pleased that Ms. Wilson Raybould is going to be able to share her perspective,” Trudeau told reporters Tuesday as he headed into a morning cabinet meeting.
That view was echoed by Justice Minister David Lametti, who said the government was showing openness on an issue that has blown up into a political crisis for the Liberals with a fall election looming.
“I believe the government worked to demonstrate transparency as well as balancing the fact there is ongoing litigation we do not want to compromise,” he said. “We feel we have done that with this agreement.”
When she resigned as veteran affairs minister earlier this month — after earlier being shuffled out of the justice post — she said she would be consulting with former Supreme Court judge Thomas Cromwell on what she could say.
Lametti suggested Tuesday that government lawyers had consulted with Wilson-Raybould’s legal representatives in crafting the waiver. “It’s fair to say that there were contacts between lawyers,” he said.
Asked if he was concerned that Wilson-Raybould’s testimony would be different from the government’s version, Lametti said, “that’s not for me to determine.
“What we were doing is establishing a process that’s fair and open and allows transparency but still protects the very principles that we would want to protect,” he said.
The controversy revolves around discussions that Trudeau’s senior aides and the top civil servant had with Wilson-Raybould last fall on the SNC-Lavalin file. Michael Wernick, the clerk of the Privy Council, told the justice committee last week that he met with Wilson-Raybould in December to convey “context” about the “consequences” a criminal prosecution of the company might have if SNC-Lavalin was convicted and faced a 10-year ban on government contracts.
The company was seeking a remediation agreement, which would have allowed it to avoid criminal prosecution and being shut out of federal business. After the director of public prosecutions had decided in September to proceed with the charges, officials from Trudeau’s office met with Wilson-Raybould, who had the power to intervene.
Wernick insisted that the interactions with Wilson-Raybould were appropriate and lawful.
But on Monday, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, a former Saskatchewan provincial court judge, said those discussions would be “troubling” if it’s shown that there was an attempt to interfere with the independence of the judicial process and Wilson-Raybould’s role as attorney general.
If the talks went beyond a “more passive and respectful approach,” and the purpose “was to persuade the attorney general as prosecutor to take a different position on a prosecution, it triggers a serious rule-of-law concern,” Turpel-Lafond told the Commons’ justice committee.
She also put a question mark over Wilson-Raybould’s surprise removal from the justice post in a January cabinet shuffle.
“Perhaps this is an instance where a prosecutor was actually fired for establishing a boundary that was not popular or accepted. I’m not sure of that. I think there is some suspicion and concern here about that,” said Turpel-Lafond, who currently practises law and teaches in Victoria.
Tonda MacCharles is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics. Follow her on Twitter: @tondamacc
Bruce Campion-Smith is an Ottawa-based reporter covering national politics. Follow him on Twitter: @yowflier