One law for the rich and powerful. Another law for everybody else. That’s the underlying message in the testimony of former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould, given this week to the Justice Committee of the House of Commons.
For four hours, Wilson-Raybould painted a picture of a Prime Minister’s Office that held itself above the law, that sought to protect its own interests above those of the voters by flouting one of the basic principles of Canadian democracy: politicians cannot interfere in the justice system. Once you cross that line, it’s a slippery slope to a place where the rule of law is meaningless, and the citizen becomes powerless before the state.
The Liberals see it differently. They claim that they were standing up for that citizen, defending Canadian jobs, including the 9,000 at SNC-Lavalin. Their narrative is simple: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his acolytes were simply helping former Wilson-Raybould understand what could happen if she didn’t grant the company a deferred prosecution on corruption charges. SNC-Lavalin might get bought out! Move its headquarters to London! Lay off thousands of workers!
But there’s one small problem: if Wilson-Raybould’s testimony is correct, this line is a colossal lie. Election prospects, not employment, were the government’s prime concerns. First, the re-election of a Liberal government in Quebec, which failed to materialize in October 2018. Then, the fact that Trudeau was the MP for Papineau, a riding in Quebec, a point he personally made clear to Wilson-Raybould. Finally, the re-election of the current federal Liberal government, which it hopes will occur in October 2019.
These concerns were repeatedly impressed upon the then-attorney general, despite the fact that the handbook for the director of public prosecutions specifically excludes “possible political advantage or disadvantage to the government or any political group or party” as a criterion for deciding whether to use the provision.
WATCH BELOW: The latest in the SNC-Lavalin affair
After Wilson Raybould refused to budge, Trudeau demoted her in mid-January and replaced her as AG with Quebec MP David Lametti, previously Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Innovation. Wilson-Raybould testified that the Clerk of the Privy Council, Michael Wernick, told her former deputy minister that one of the first orders of business for the new AG would be a conversation with the PM about SNC-Lavalin. A month later, Lametti was quoted in The Globe and Mail as saying that a deferred prosecution was “still possible” — a position diametrically opposed to that of his predecessor.
Wilson-Raybould may characterize these acts as “inappropriate” as opposed to illegal, but taken together, they could add up to obstruction of justice. The penalties for this crime are severe. Section 139 (2) of the Criminal Code states that “Every one who wilfully attempts … to obstruct, pervert or defeat the course of justice is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years.”
Or at the very least, political purgatory. Such was the case in 1990, when the Liberals demanded the resignation of then-Progressive Conservative MP Jean Charest on charges of political interference with the judiciary. Charest, then minister for sport, had admitted making an improper phone call to a judge who was set to rule on an athletics case. That’s small beer compared to the level of pressure applied to Wilson-Raybould. But Charest did the honourable thing and quit the Cabinet, to be reinstated a year later by then-prime minister Brian Mulroney.
If Trudeau had any decency, he would resign as prime minister and call an election. If he doesn’t, the RCMP should launch an investigation into his conduct and that of his office, to determine whether charges of obstruction are warranted. If he really believes in the rule of law, as he has repeatedly said in recent months, he should practise what he preaches, do what is expected from a prime minister, or make way for someone who will.
LISTEN: Tasha Kheiriddin joins Rob Breakenridge to discuss why the SNC-Lavalin scandal “stands out in terms of political scandals”