Former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould says she came under “consistent and sustained” pressure _ including veiled threats _ from the Prime Minister’s Office, the Privy Council Office and the finance minister’s office to halt a criminal prosecution of Montreal engineering giant SNC-Lavalin.
Testifying Wednesday to the House of Commons justice committee, Wilson-Raybould said she believes she was shuffled out of the justice portfolio because she refused to give in.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, his senior staff, the clerk of the Privy Council and others repeatedly “hounded” her to end the prosecution, she said, and this went on for months after the director of public prosecutions, Kathleen Roussel, rejected the idea of negotiating a remediation agreement with SNC-Lavalin _ and long after Wilson-Raybould unequivocally informed them she would not intervene to override Roussel’s decision.
Wilson-Raybould was shuffled out of the justice portfolio in January and resigned from cabinet earlier this month after a story broke that she had been pressured inappropriately to arrange a remediation agreement that would have headed off the prosecution.
“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,” she told the committee.
She said the pressure was exerted on her or her staff by 11 individuals in the Prime Minister’s Office, the Privy Council Office and the Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s office through approximately 10 phone calls, 10 meetings and numerous emails and text messages. They repeatedly raised concerns about the risks to the company if it were convicted of corruption and fraud in relation to work it sought in Libya.
And she said the fact there was a provincial election in Quebec was a major concern for the Liberal government. A conviction could mean a 10-year ban on federal work for the company, which specializes in civil engineering and construction, and Wilson-Raybould said the government was worried the SNC-Lavalin would move its headquarters from Montreal to London if that happened.
In her testimony, Wilson-Raybould said the decision not to pursue such an agreement was made in September, but she and her staff heard repeatedly from Trudeau’s office and Morneau’s office after that, trying to find ways to help SNC-Lavalin.
She said she was told repeatedly the decision was up to her, but attempts to talk her into a remediation agreement were relentless.
Trudeau has said Wilson-Raybould was not directed or improperly pressured to do anything for the company. Last week, though, his principal secretary and longtime friend Gerald Butts resigned, saying that he and his role in the affair had become a distraction.
Wilson-Raybould’s account of the campaign to change her mind on SNC-Lavalin included approaches from Trudeau, Butts, Morneau’s chief of staff Ben Chin, and the clerk of the Privy Council Michael Wernick that were directed at her, her chief of staff Jessica Prince, and her deputy minister in the Department of Justice.