OTTAWA—Independent MP Jody Wilson-Raybould says she is still unfairly blocked by principles of confidentiality from responding to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s comments about the SNC-Lavalin affair.
In a statement to the Star’s Susan Delacourt this week, the former Liberal cabinet minister said “it is deeply unfortunate” she can’t answer questions about conversations she had with the prime minister earlier this year.
In his new book about the Liberal government, “Promise and Peril,” CBC journalist Aaron Wherry revealed Trudeau and Wilson-Raybould discussed issuing a statement of truce last winter, when the controversy over alleged political interference in the criminal trial of the Montreal construction giant first rocked the Liberal government and dominated the news for several weeks.
On Thursday night, Wilson-Raybould sent the Star a statement she said she shared with Wherry—she was also interviewed for his book—in which she suggests Trudeau mischaracterized their interactions during the SNC-Lavalin affair.
“It is deeply unfortunate — indeed frustrating — that I am prevented from telling what was actually said in various conversations that are subject to strict confidentiality,” Wilson-Raybould wrote.
“This is especially so since it appears, based on your questions to me regarding these conversations, that others do not feel equally constrained and that you are receiving, as a result, false self-serving/one-sided and inaccurate accounts of relevant events. This is not fair.”
Trudeau’s office declined to respond to Wilson-Raybould’s statement on Friday.
In February, Trudeau waived cabinet confidence in relation to the SNC-Lavalin affair for Wilson-Raybould and others “who directly participated in discussions with her” about it while she was the attorney general. Wilson-Raybould was shuffled from her portfolio in January, and the waiver specifies that confidence was lifted to share details with the Commons justice committee and ethics commissioner Mario Dion.
During his investigation that found Trudeau broke Canada’s conflict of interest law during the affair, Dion asked the government to expand that waiver because nine witnesses said they were unable to share relevant information that was still covered by cabinet secrecy. Dion asked Trudeau and Canada’s top bureaucrat if it could be done, but his request was refused.
That didn’t prevent Dion from issuing a report that detailed what he called “troubling” attempts by Trudeau and his staff to convince Wilson-Raybould to offer SNC-Lavalin a remediation agreement that would see it pay a fine instead of going to trial to face fraud and bribery charges. He concluded this was “tantamount to political direction” and contrary to the principles of prosecutorial independence, and that Trudeau oversaw the campaign in order to advance the company’s private interest.
Marie Ellen Turpel-Lafond, a former judge and lawyer who is a professor at the University of British Columbia, said Trudeau’s waiver of confidence was “pretty narrowly constructed.” It doesn’t refer to cabinet discussions after Wilson-Raybould was removed as attorney general, and wouldn’t affect conversations in the weeks that followed if there was an agreement to keep the exchanges secret, Turpel-Lafond said.
While Wilson-Raybould may be able to speak publicly about certain events after she left cabinet, Turpel-Lafond said she is right to be cautious about doing so, given the possible professional repercussions as a lawyer of breaching any type of privilege.
“In the interest of transparency, I think (the government) should make a full waiver and allow Ms. Wilson-Raybould to fully explain what happened,” she said.
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