There remains little clarity on whether former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould will be able to speak freely during a potential appearance before the House of Commons justice committee next week looking into the SNC-Lavalin affair.
Attorney General David Lametti was asked repeatedly by opposition members of the committee whether he will provide recommendations on whether to waive solicitor-client privilege that were requested by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau by Tuesday, which is when multiple committee members have suggested Wilson-Raybould could appear.
No formal date for an appearance by her has yet been issued by the committee.
“A lot of scholars see solicitor-client privilege as a continuum … I can’t answer that question, it’s part of the duty of confidentiality,” said Lametti.
“Solicitor-client privilege is an extremely complex and layered process and I can’t say more than that.”
Lametti also said during his appearance before the committee that the matter has raised “serious questions” about how prosecutions are carried out in Canada.
The committee is conducting a limited probe into allegations of political interference by the Prime Minister’s Office into the criminal case currently underway against SNC-Lavalin, based on a report two weeks ago by the Globe and Mail.
WATCH BELOW: Clerk of the Privy Council Michael Wernick offers strong words on SNC-Lavalin affair
Also appearing at the committee was Canada’s top civil servant, Michael Wernick, who is Clerk of the Privy Council Office.
Wernick offered a strongly-worded condemnation of the report, calling it untrue.
“I’m here to say to you that the Globe and Mail article contains errors, unfounded speculation and, in some cases, is simply defamatory,” he told the committee.
Wernick also echoed a number of points made by Trudeau in recent weeks, specifically that Wilson-Raybould had the opportunity to raise any concerns she might have had about undue pressure with the prime minister, but did not do so.
“She could have called the ethics commissioner any time, any day,” he said. “There were multiple, multiple, multiple occasions where the minister could have expressed concern to the prime minister.”
He also told committee members that while remediation agreements writ large were raised in cabinet, there was not any discussion about the specific case around SNC-Lavalin and that his interpretation of a meeting between Trudeau and Wilson-Raybould involved no recollection of pressure being applied during that Sept. 17, 2018, meeting, nor on one between staff of the Prime Minister’s Office and her on Dec. 18, 2019.
He said he spoke to her on Dec. 19, 2018, to “convey consequences” — but not threats — about the potential economic impact on the Montreal engineering giant, its employees and pensioners if it were forced to move or close operations.
“I am quite sure the minister felt pressure to get it right,” he said.
He said as well that during a surprise appearance by Wilson-Raybould at a cabinet meeting earlier this week, Lametti recused himself.
Lametti later said in question period that he made that decision “of my own accord.”
WATCH BELOW: Trudeau says Jody Wilson-Raybould’s decision to resign from cabinet ‘still unclear’ to him
Lametti also said during his earlier appearance that it is “absolutely” acceptable for a prime minister or other officials to discuss active cases with those in his role, and said there are still many areas of potential questioning that he will not be able to answer.
“While the facts are uncertain, those that have come forward so far have raised serious questions about how the decision to initiate prosecutions are made,” Lametti told MPs at the committee on Thursday morning.
He also told committee members that while he had “general knowledge of this matter as a Montreal MP,” he did not speak about it with Prime Minister Trudeau or anyone from the Prime Minister’s Office.
And when asked whether discussions on active cases or prosecutions are appropriate, he said, “absolutely.”
“The attorney general can’t be an island,” he said.
WATCH BELOW: Conservatives urge Trudeau to waive solicitor-client privilege in SNC-Lavalin case
Lametti is one of three witnesses appearing before the committee, along with Nathalie Drouin, deputy attorney general, and Michael Wernick, clerk of the Privy Council.
The committee is beginning a limited probe into allegations published by the Globe and Mail two weeks ago that unknown individuals from the Prime Minister’s Office pressured former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to intervene in the case of SNC-Lavalin to help it avoid a criminal trial.
SNC-Lavalin is facing charges for corruption and fraud related to its business activities in Libya.
A conviction would mean the firm would be banned from bidding on lucrative government contracts for a decade.
Wilson-Raybould has not denied the allegations, saying she cannot speak on the matter because of solicitor-client privilege.
In the House of Commons on Wednesday, she rose and told members that she cannot waive that but that she wants to speak.
WATCH BELOW: Wilson-Raybould: ‘I hope I have the opportunity to speak my truth’
“Privilege and confidentiality are not mine to waive and I hope I have the opportunity to speak my truth,” she said.
Trudeau has said the Globe and Mail report is “false” but has acknowledged he and Wilson-Raybould discussed the matter.
He says he told her the decision was “hers alone” to make, and suggested her continued presence in cabinet spoke for itself.
She resigned shortly after.
Trudeau has also dodged questions when asked whether it is possible any conversations on the matter of offering what’s known as a “remediation agreement” to SNC-Lavalin could have been interpreted as pressure by Wilson-Raybould.
Just prior to the committee getting underway, Trudeau said he remains “surprised and disappointed” by her resignation from cabinet.
“This is not a decision that remains clear to me,” he told reporters.
Wilson-Raybould has also been invited to speak to the committee and could do so next week.