Former justice minister and attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould delivered bombshell testimony Wednesday before the House of Commons justice committee, alleging that senior government officials consistently pressured her to politically interfere in the criminal prosecution of engineering giant SNC-Lavalin.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he disagrees with Wilson-Raybould’s interpretation of what happened, and that he and his staff “always acted appropriately” on the SNC-Lavalin file.
The Star asked two experts for their reactions to 15 passages in Wilson-Raybould’s statement to the committee.
The comments from Trevor Farrow, a professor at Osgoode Hall law school, and Andrew McDougall, a lecturer in political science at the University of Toronto-Scarborough, can be found by clicking on the highlighted passages in Wilson-Raybould’s statement below.
Hon. Jody Wilson-Raybould: [Witness speaks in Kwakwala]
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you to the members of the justice committee for providing me the opportunity for extended testimony today. I very much appreciate it.
Starting off I would like to acknowledge the territory, the ancestral lands, of the Algonquin people.
For a period of approximately four months, between September and December of 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 of Canada in an inappropriate effort to secure a deferred prosecution agreement with SNC-Lavalin.
These events involved 11 people, excluding myself and my political staff, 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. There were approximately 10 phone calls and 10 meetings specifically about SNC and I and/or my staff were a part of these meetings.
Within these conversations there were expressed statements regarding the necessity of interference in the SNC-Lavalin matter, the potential of consequences and veiled threats if a DPA was not made available to SNC. These conversations culminated on December 19 of 2018 with a conversation I had with the Clerk of the Privy Council, a conversation that I will provide some significant detail on.
A few weeks later, on January 7, 2019, I was informed by the Prime Minister that I was being shuffled out of the role of Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada.
For most of these conversations I made contemporaneous notes, detailed notes, in addition to my clear memory, which I am relying on today, among other documentation.
My goal in my testimony is to outline the details of these communications for the committee and indeed all Canadians, however before doing that let me make a couple of comments.
First, I want to thank Canadians for their patience since the February 7 story which broke in The Globe and Mail. Thank you as well specifically to those who have reached out to me across the country. I appreciate the messages and I have read all of them.
With that said, the remainder of my testimony will be a detailed and factual delineation of approximately 10 phone calls, 10 in-person meetings and emails and text messages that were part of an effort to politically interfere regarding the SNC matter for purposes of securing a deferred prosecution.
The story begins on September 4, 2008. My chief of staff and I were overseas when I was sent a Memorandum for the Attorney General pursuant to section 13 of the Director of Public Prosecutions Act, which was entitled, quote, “Whether to issue an invitation to negotiate a remediation agreement to SNC-Lavalin”, end quote, which was prepared by the Director of Public Prosecutions, Kathleen Roussel.
The only parts of this note that I will disclose are as follows, quote, “The DPP is of the view that an invitation to negotiate will not be made in this case and that no announcement will be made by the PPSC”, end quote.
As with all section 13 notices, the director provides the information so the Attorney General can take such course of action as they deem appropriate. In other words, the director had made her decision to not negotiate a remediation agreement with SNC-Lavalin.
I subsequently spoke to my minister’s office staff about the decision, and I did the standard practice of undertaking further internal work and due diligence in relation to this note, a practice that I have had for many of the section 13 notices that I received when I was the Attorney General. In other words, I immediately put in motion with my department and minister’s office, a careful consideration and study of the matter. Two days later, on September 6th, one of the first communications about the DPA was received from outside of my department.
This same day, my chief of staff exchanged some emails with my minister’s office staff about this, who advised her that the deputy attorney general, Nathalie Drouin was working on something and that my staff were drafting a memo about the role of the Attorney General vis-à-vis the PPSC. It was on or about this day that I requested a one-on-one meeting with the Prime Minister on another matter of urgency, and as soon as possible after I got back into the country. This request would ultimately become the meeting on September 17th between myself and the Prime Minister that has widely been reported in the media.
On September 7th, my chief of staff spoke by phone to my then-deputy minister about the call she had received from Ben Chin, and the deputy stated that the department is working on this. The deputy gave my chief a quick rundown of what she thought some options would be.
On the same day, I received a note from my staff on the role of the Attorney General, a note that I also shared or that my office also shared with Elder Marques and Amy Archer at the PMO.
The same day, staff in my office met with the deputy minister. Some excerpts of the section 13 note were read to the deputy minister, but the deputy minister did not want to be provided with a copy of the section 13 note.
On September 8th, my deputy shared the draft note on the role of the Attorney General with my chief of staff who subsequently shared it with me, and over the next day, clarity was sought by my staff with the deputy on aspects of the options that were laid out in her note.
A followup conversation between Ben Chin and a member of my staff, François Giroux occurred on September 11th. Mr. Chin said that SNC had been informed by the PPSC that it cannot enter into a DPA. Ben, again, detailed the reasons why they were told that they were not getting a DPA. Mr. Chin also noted that SNC’s legal counsel, Frank Iacobucci and further detailed what the terms were that SNC was prepared to agree to, stating that they viewed this as part of a negotiation.
To be clear, up to this point I had not been directly contacted by the Prime Minister, officials in the Prime Minister’s office, or the Privy Council office about this matter. With the exception of Mr. Chin’s discussions, the focus of communications had been internal to the Department of Justice.
This changes on September 16th. My chief of staff had a phone call with Mathieu Bouchard and Elder Marques from the Prime Minister’s office. They wanted to discuss SNC. They told her that SNC had made further submissions to the Crown and that there is some softening but not much. They said that they understood that the individual Crown prosecutor wants to negotiate an agreement but the director does not. They said that they understand that there are limits on what can be done and that they can’t direct, but that they hear that our deputy of justice thinks we can get the PPSC to say we think that we should get some outside advice on this. They said that they think we should be able to find a more reasonable resolution here. They told her that SNC’s next board meeting is on Thursday, which was September 20th.
They also mentioned the Quebec election context. They asked my chief if someone had suggested the outside idea to the PPSC and asked whether or not we were open to this suggestion. They wanted to know if my deputy could do it.
In response, my chief of staff stressed to them prosecutorial independence and potential concerns about the interference in the independence of the prosecutorial functions. Mr. Bouchard and Mr. Marques kept telling her that they didn’t want to cross any lines but they asked my chief of staff to follow up with me directly on this matter.
In the course of reaching this view, I discussed the matter on a number of occasions with my then deputy so that she was aware of my view, raised concerns on a number of occasions with my deputy minister about the appropriateness of communications we were receiving from outside the department, and also raised concerns about some of the options that she had been suggesting.
On September 17th the deputy minister said that Finance had told her that they wanted to make sure that Kathleen understands the impact if we do nothing in this case. Given the potential concerns raised by this conversation, I discussed this later with my deputy. This same day, September 17th, I had my one-on-one meeting with the Prime Minister that I requested a couple of weeks ago. . 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 Prime Minister raised the issue immediately. The Prime Minister asked me to help out, to find a solution here for SNC, citing that if there is no DPA, there would be many jobs lost and that SNC would 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 the conduct of prosecutions. I told him that I had done my due diligence and had made up my mind on SNC and that I was not going to interfere with the decision of the director.
In response, the Prime Minister reiterated his concerns. I then explained how this came about and that I had received a section 13 note from the DPP early in September and that I had considered the matter very closely. I further stated that I was very clear on my role as the attorney-general and that I was not prepared to issue a directive in this case, that it would not be appropriate.
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 that would be inappropriate. I further explained to the clerk and the Prime Minister that I had had a conversation with my deputy about options and what my position was on the matter. As a result, I agreed to, and undertook to the Prime Minister that I would have a conversation with my deputy and the clerk, but that these conversations would not change my mind. I also said that my staff and my officials are not authorized to speak to the PPSC, and then we finally discussed the issue that I had asked for the meeting for in the first place.
I left the meeting and immediately debriefed with my staff about what was said with respect to SNC and DPAs.
On September 19th, I met with the Clerk, as I had undertaken to the Prime Minister. The meeting was one-on-one in my office. The Clerk brought up job losses and that this is not about the Quebec election, or the Prime Minister being a Montreal MP. He said that he has not seen the section 13 note.
I told the Clerk again that I instructed that my deputy is not to get in touch with the director, and that given my review of the matter I would not speak to her directly regarding a DPA. I offered to the Clerk that if SNC were to send me a letter expressing their concerns, their public interest argument, it would be permissible and I would appropriately forward it directly to the Director of Public Prosecutions.
Later that day, my chief of staff had a phone call with Elder Marques and Mathieu Bouchard from the Prime Minister’s Office. They wanted an update on what was going on regarding the DPAs, since “we don’t have a ton of time.” She relayed my summary of the meeting with the Clerk and the Prime Minister.
They asked whether that was true, if it wasn’t the Attorney General herself, but it was her staff or the deputy minister. My chief of staff said, “yes it would”, and offered a call with me directly. They said that they “will regroup and get back to you on that”.
Still, on September the 19th I spoke to Minister Morneau on this matter, when we were in the House. He again stressed the need to save jobs. I told him that engagements from his office to mine on SNC had to stop, that they were inappropriate. They did not stop.
On September the 20th, my chief of staff had phone calls with Mr. Chin and Justin Tao, both members of the Minister of Finance’s office about DPAs and SNC.
The next day, as well, SNC filed a federal court application, seeking to quash the DPP’s decision to not enter into 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 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.
However, on October the 26th, 2018, when my chief of staff spoke to Mathieu Bouchard and communicated to him that given that SNC has now filed in federal court seeking to review the DPP’s decision, surely we had moved passed the idea of the Attorney General intervening, or getting an opinion on the same question. Mathieu replied that he was still interested in an external legal opinion idea. “Could she not get an external legal opinion on whether the DPP had exercised their discretion properly?” Then, on the application itself, the Attorney General could intervene, “seek to stay the proceedings, given that she was awaiting a legal opinion.”
He said that everybody knows that this is the Attorney General’s decision but that he wants to make sure that all options are being canvassed. Matthew said that if “at the end of the day, the Attorney General is not comfortable, that is fine”. He just doesn’t want any doors to be closed.
Jessica, my Chief of Staff said “that I was always happy to speak to him should he wish.
In mid-November, the PMO requested that I meet with Matthew Bouchard and [inaudible] to discuss the matter which I did on November 22nd. This meeting was quite long. I would say about an hour and a half. I was irritated by having to have the meeting as I had already told the Prime Minister, etc. that a DPA on SNC was not going to happen and that I was not going to issue a directive.
Matthew in this meeting did most of the talking. He was trying to tell me that there were options and that I needed to find a solution. I took him through the DPP Act, section 15, section 10 and talked about the prosecutorial independence as a constitutional principle and that they were interfering. I talked about the section 13 note which they said that they had never received but I reminded them that we sent it to them in September.
Matthew and [inaudible] continued to plead their case talking about if I’m not sure in my decision, that we could hire an eminent person to advise me. They were kicking the tires. I said no. My mind had been made up and they needed to stop. This was enough.
I will briefly pause at this moment to comment on my own state of mind. In my role as Attorney General, I had received the decision of the DPP in September. I reviewed the matter, made a decision on what was appropriate given the DPA and communicated that to the Prime Minister.
On December 5th, 2018, I met with Gerry Butts. We had both sought out this 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 our meeting which was in the Chateau Laurier, I raised how I needed everybody to stop talking to me about SNC as I had made up my mind any engagements were inappropriate.
On December 7 I received a letter from the Prime Minister, dated December 6, attaching a letter from the CEO of SNC-Lavalin, dated October 15. I responded to the Prime Minister’s letter on December 6, noting that the matter is before the court so I cannot comment on it, and that the decision re: a DPA was one for the DPP, which is independent of my office.
This brings me to the final events in the chronology, the ones that signal, in my experience, the final escalation in efforts by the Prime Minister’s office to interfere in this matter. On December 18 of 2018 my chief of staff was urgently summoned to a meeting with Gerry Butts and Katie Telford to discuss SNC. They wanted to know where I, me, am at in terms of finding a solution. The 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 Prime Minister and the clerk the next day.
I will now read to you a transcript of the most relevant sections of a text conversation between my chief of staff and I almost immediately after that meeting:
MoJAG: So where were things left?
Jessica: So unclear. I said I would of course let you know about the conversation, and they said that they were going to kick the tires with a few people on this tonight. The clerk was waiting outside when I left, but they said that they want to set up a call between you and the Prime Minister and the clerk tomorrow. I said that of course you’d be happy to speak to your boss. They seem quite keen on the idea of you retaining an ex-Supreme Court of Canada judge to get advice on this. Katie Telford thinks it gives us cover in the business community and the legal community, and that it would allow the Prime Minister to say we were doing something. She was like, “If Jody is nervous, we would of course line up all kinds of people to write op-eds saying that what she is doing is proper.”
On December 19, 2018, I was asked to have a call with the clerk. It was a fairly lengthy call, and I took the call from him and I was on my own, by myself. Given what 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 DPAs, SNC. He said he wanted to pass on where the Prime Minister was at. He spoke about the company’s board and the possibility of their selling out to someone else, moving their headquarters, and job losses. He said that the Prime Minister wanted to be able to say that he has tried everything he can within the legitimate tool box. The clerk said that the Prime Minister was quite determined, quite firm, but he wanted to know why the DPA route, which Parliament provided for, wasn’t being used. He said, “I think he is going to find a way to get it done, one way or another. He is in that kind of mood, and I wanted you to be aware of it.”
The clerk said he didn’t know if the Prime Minister was planning on calling me directly or, “if he is thinking about somebody else to give him some advice. You know, he does not want to do anything outside of the box of what is legal or proper.” He said that, “The Prime Minister wants to understand more, to give him advice on this or give you advice on this if you want to feel more comfortable you are not doing anything inappropriate or outside the frame.”
I told the clerk that I was 100% confident that I was doing nothing inappropriate. I again reiterated my confidence in where I was, and my views on SNC and the DPA had not changed. I reiterated this as a constitutional principle of prosecutorial independence.
I warned the Clerk in this call that we were treading on dangerous ground here.
I also issued a stern warning because, as the Attorney General, 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. This all screams of that.
The Clerk wondered whether anyone could speak to the director about the context around this, or get her to explain her reasoning. The Clerk told me that he was going to have to report back to the Prime Minister before he leaves. He said again that the Prime Minister 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 the comment about how it is not good for the Prime Minister and his Attorney General to be at loggerheads.
I told the Clerk that I was giving him my best advice and that if he did not accept that advice, then it is the Prime Minister’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.
The Clerk acknowledged that, but said that the Prime Minister does not have the power to do what he wants. All the tools are in my hands, he said.
I said that I was having thoughts of the Saturday Night Massacre, but that I was confidant 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 Prime Minister is pretty firm about this. He told me that he had seen the Prime Minister a few hours ago and that this is really important to him. That was essentially where the conversation ended, and I did not hear from the Prime Minister the next day.
The Chair: I am just letting everybody know that as chair I choose to give you more than 30 minutes. You have exceeded it. I’d like you to be able to finish your statement.
Is there anybody who has any objection to that?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
Hon. Lisa Raitt (Milton, CPC): No, and I don’t think anyone in the audience does either.
The Chair: Okay.
Hon. Jody Wilson-Raybould: Thank you, Mr. Chair.
On January 7 I received a call from the Prime Minister and was informed I was being shuffled out of my role as Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada. I will not go into details of this call or subsequent communications about the shuffle, but I will say that I stated I believed the reason was because of the SNC matter. They denied this to be the case.
My narrative stops here. I must reiterate to the committee my concern outlined in the letter to the Chair yesterday. That is Order in Council No. 2019-0105 addresses only my time as the Attorney General of Canada and therefore does nothing to release me from my restrictions that applied to communications while I proudly served as the Minister of Veterans Affairs and in relation to my resignation from that post or my presentation to cabinet after I resigned.
This time period includes communications on topics that some members of the committee have explored with other witnesses and about which there have been public statements by others. The Order in Council leaves in place the various constraints, in particular cabinet confidences that there are on my ability to speak freely on matters that occurred after I left my post as Attorney General.
Even with those constraints, I hope that through my narrative today the committee and everyone across the country who is listening has a clear idea of what I experienced and what I know of who did what, and what was communicated. I hope and expect the facts speak for themselves. 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 now have the same frame of information.
In saying this, I was reflecting what I understood 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 experiences. I am, of course, a lawyer. I was a prosecutor in the Downtown East Side of Vancouver, so I come to this view as a trained professional and committed to certain values as key to our system of order.
My understanding of the rule of law has also been shaped by my experiences as an indigenous person and as an indigenous 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 relation to indigenous peoples. I have seen the negative impacts for freedom, equality and a just society this can have first-hand, 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 what you say because you cannot take it back.
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, my grandparents, and my community. I come from a long line of matriarchs, and I’m a truth teller in accordance with the laws and traditions of our big house. This is who I am, and this is who I always will be.
Gila’kasla. Thank you.