Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he is “definitely not in agreement” with the testimony from former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould that she faced a “sustained effort” and “veiled threats” to intervene in the criminal case of SNC-Lavalin.
Speaking with reporters from Montreal, Trudeau said he had not yet listened to all of Wilson-Raybould’s explosive first public comments on the allegations that multiple officials from within his office tried to pressure her to intervene to help the Montreal engineering firm avoid a criminal trial.
But even so, he said he disagrees with her characterization of what happened.
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“I completely disagree with the former attorney general’s version of events,” he said, adding he had not ruled out whether she will remain a Liberal MP or be allowed to run for the party in the fall election.
“I haven’t listened to all her testimony and I won’t decide before I do.”
His statements came shortly after Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer called on Trudeau to resign over the testimony.
“Justin Trudeau simply cannot continue to govern this country now that Canadians know what he has done. That is why I am calling on Justin Trudeau to do the right thing and resign,” Scheer said.
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“The testimony Canadians have just heard from Jody Wilson-Raybould is of a prime minister who has lost his moral authority to govern:”
Eleven people including Trudeau were part of a campaign to get Wilson-Raybould to intervene in the decision of the director of public prosecutions not to offer a newly created legal tool called a remediation agreement to the Montreal engineering firm, according to her first public remarks explaining her side of the story.
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“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 an inappropriate effort to secure a deferred prosecution agreement with SNC-Lavalin,” she said.
Wilson-Raybould also outlined there were 10 phone calls and in-person meetings as well as emails and texts exchanged about the affair between September 2018 and January 2019, and said she told officials early on the campaign of pressure had to stop.
Despite that, they did not and instead, only escalated, she said.
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SNC-Lavalin is facing criminal charges for corruption and fraud.
If convicted, it would receive a 10-year ban on bidding for government contracts.
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A remediation agreement, or deferred prosecution agreement, is a new legal tool created by the Liberals in 2018 that would allow a company to avoid a criminal trial by admitting wrongdoing and making reparations such as fines.
According to Wilson-Raybould, the trouble began on Sept. 16, 2018, which she described as the day discussions on the SNC-Lavalin matter changed from internal talks within the Department of Justice to talks from external officials.
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On that date, she said two senior advisers from the PMO — Elder Marques and Mathieu Bouchard — called her chief of staff, Jessica Prince, and asked if “we were open to this suggestion” for a deferred prosecution agreement.
The next day, Wilson-Raybould said Trudeau raised the issue during a meeting on Indigenous reconciliation.
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At the same time, she said Privy Council Clerk Michael Wernick made the case for offering a deal to SNC-Lavalin given the upcoming election.
“The conversations turned to be completely inappropriate when there was discussions about the Quebec election, that the prime minister was a member of Parliament from Quebec,” she said.
“I was quite taken aback. My response, and I vividly remember this as well, was to ask the prime minster a direct question while looking him in the eye. I asked are you political interfering with my role, my decision,” she continued.
“No, no no,” she says Trudeau told her. “We just need to find a solution.”
Wilson-Raybould said she had continued to receive calls from Marques and Bouchard, as well as repeated calls from staff from Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s office.
On Sept. 19, she says she told Morneau it had to stop, and it did not.
SNC-Lavalin filed for judicial appeal of the decision not to offer a remediation agreement in October, and that was when things began to heat up, she said.
On Oct. 26, Bouchard asked whether her office would accept external expert advice on the matter.
In that conversation, Wilson-Raybould said Prince was told that risking job losses in Quebec was not acceptable in an election year.
Wilson-Raybould met with Gerald Butts, then-principal secretary to Trudeau and one of his two closest advisers, on Dec. 6 and says she told him the pressure needed to come to an end — but it did not.
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On Dec. 18, Prince was called in for a meeting with Katie Telford, chief of staff to the prime minister, and Butts.
“Jess, there is no solution here that does not involve some interference,” Wilson-Raybould said Butts told Prince in that meeting, reading out a text exchange between herself and Prince following the meeting, and added that Telford told Prince “we don’t want to debate legalities anymore.”
Butts resigned on Feb. 18 but has denied any inappropriate behaviour from either himself or anyone from the PMO.
Wilson-Raybould told the committee she had no further insight to that decision other than what was in the letter.
The next day, on Dec. 19, Wilson-Raybould met with Wernick directly.
Wernick told the committee last week that he used that meeting to convey “anxieties” within the government about the decision not to offer a remediation agreement and that there could be “consequences” to not doing so.
But he stressed that there was no inappropriate pressure applied.
Wilson-Raybould painted a different description of the meeting, saying Wernick told her that the prime minister was in a “mood.”
“I think he is going to find a way to get it done one way or another,” she said Wernick told her of Trudeau’s mind frame.
“The Clerk then made a comment that it was not good for the prime minister and his attorney general to be at loggerheads,” she continued, adding she warned him that the nature of the conversation meant “we are treading on dangerous ground here.”
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Wilson-Raybould was shuffled from the attorney general portfolio less than one month later, on Jan. 14, 2019.
She told the committee she was notified of that decision on Jan. 7, 2019, and told them she believed it was because of her refusal to intervene.
“They denied this was the case,” she said.
Wilson-Raybould stressed she could not speak about events that took place after that because the waivers of solicitor-client privilege and cabinet confidentiality did not extend past her time in the role of attorney general, and that included her reasons for resigning.
However, she said when asked by Liberal members on the committee if she had confidence in Trudeau that there was a reason she resigned.
“I’ll say this, and I’m not going to get into any conversations about why I resigned,” she responded.
“I resigned from cabinet because I did not have confidence to sit around the cabinet table.”
Liberal members also repeatedly suggested Wilson-Raybould never raised the issue with Trudeau or other senior officials, a claim Trudeau has also made.
Wilson-Raybould rebuffed that, arguing she raised concerns there was inappropriate pressure being applied during several meetings including one with Trudeau on Sept. 17 as well as with Wernick on Dec. 19.
“You asked for it to stop, and it in fact escalated, is that correct,” asked the NDP’s Nathan Cullen, also a member of the committee.
“That’s correct,” Wilson-Raybould responded, but appeared to suggest that the fact the pressure was coming from the prime minister, his office and other staff acting on his behalf may have limited the potential for her concerns to be heard.
“When faced with sustained pressure or attempts at interference … by the Prime Minister’s Office, by the Clerk of the Privy Council, by the Clerk of the Privy Council invoking the prime minister’s name, I had beyond concerns,” she said.
“Why would I go to the prime minister to raise these concerns?”
Trudeau is expected to speak around 8PM to address the remarks made by Wilson-Raybould.
He will also hold a media availability Thursday morning in Montreal.
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