Former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould warned Gerald Butts, former principal secretary to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, that there would be Indigenous anger across the country if she was removed from the post.
A series of text messages between Wilson-Raybould and Butts in the days after she was told of the plan to shuffle her out of the position show Wilson-Raybould repeatedly stressing that removing her from the post would lead to questions about why she was being “pushed out” of the position.
The messages were part of a 39-page submission made by Butts to the House of Commons justice committee on Sunday and obtained by Global News prior to being released publicly.
“Timing of ‘pushing’ me out (which will be the perception — whether true or not) is terrible,” she texted Butts on Jan. 8, 2019.
“It will be confounding and perplexing to people. This is not about me — believe me when I say this — but this is about an approach to Indigenous peoples.”
Wilson-Raybould was removed from the post of attorney general on Jan. 14, 2019, a decision she told the justice committee she believed was a direct result of her refusing to yield to what she called a “consistent and sustained effort” to pressure her into intervening in SNC-Lavalin’s criminal court case.
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She had been informed of the decision in a phone call with Butts and Trudeau on Jan. 7.
Butts submitted his notes about what happened in that call, which describe Butts and Trudeau telling Wilson-Raybould that they needed their “best players to move to pitch in” by taking on portfolios that would be delivering agenda items ahead of the election.
The justice portfolio, the note says, was viewed as being “in defence mode” until after the election.
“I know it is not your dream job but it is core to this government to maintain a legacy and to be crass about it to our political legacy,” Trudeau is noted as saying.
The transcript of that note shows Wilson-Raybould saying she felt she was being shuffled out “for other reasons” and Trudeau responding by blaming the move on the departure of Scott Brison, formerly president of the Treasury Board.
“I don’t agree,” Wilson-Raybould said. “That’s not how we change people’s lives.”
Trudeau then responded by telling her, “After an election, everything is fresh again.”
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The Montreal engineering firm is facing charges of corruption and fraud.
If convicted, it could face a decade-long ban on bidding for lucrative government contracts.
Trudeau has insisted that the reason she was shuffled was because the resignation of former Treasury Board president Scott Brison left a hole that needed filling.
Liberal MP Jane Philpott was moved into that role briefly but resigned just days after Wilson-Raybould’s testimony, saying she had “lost confidence” in Trudeau’s handling of the allegations of attempted political interference at the heart of the SNC-Lavalin scandal.
Butts testified one week after Wilson-Raybould’s appearance at the committee.
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He told the committee members that she was offered the role of minister of Indigenous services but turned it down, indicating she preferred her role.
Despite that refusal, Butts said he advised Trudeau to shuffle her somewhere else anyway, and she was offered the role of minister of veterans affairs.
In response to the above text message from Wilson-Raybould, Butts said, “Nobody is ‘pushing you out.”
“In fact, the PM has taken the extraordinary (in my experience unique) step of offering an alternative Cabinet post to you because you said you were unable to take on Indigenous Services,” Butts texted back.
Wilson-Raybould, a vocal opponent to the Indian Act, has said she could not accept a role that would make her responsible for administering the act.
After several days of texting back and forth to try setting up another call, Wilson-Raybould again stressed her concerns about the plan to move her.
“For what it is worth, I feel compelled to say – one last time – and it is my unreserved view – that what is being proposed is a mistake – irrespective of where I am going. There is no way to fully explain this… My eyes are wide open on this shift,” she wrote on Jan. 12.
“What I know – as you must – is that there is a robust and proud record of what our govt has done – through my work and that of the DOJ – to advance justice – accomplishing my mandate letter and more. I stand behind this hard work and all of my decisions and legal advice. See you on Monday JWR.”
Butts responded by saying, “I know this is tough, but we have very good ideas to make it all work from a comms perspective.”
Wilson-Raybould then accused Butts of offering to send Prince with her into the new position in order to make room for senior advisers from the Prime Minister’s Office to take up the lead as chief of staff for the new attorney general.
WATCH BELOW: Wilson-Raybould reads transcript of remarkable conversation with her chief of staff
Specifically, she named senior PMO advisers Elder Marques and Mathieu Bouchard, both of whom are among the 11 individuals she told the justice committee were involved in pressuring her to cut SNC-Lavalin a deal to escape a criminal trial.
“Nope. Want to know your preference,” Butts responded on Jan. 12.
“I told you my preference,” Wilson-Raybould wrote back on Jan. 13, the day before the shuffle. “As to the ‘very good ideas’ — you guys may want to consider sharing them with me. But know I will be prepared for tomorrow. And I know why this is happening.”
Wilson-Raybould was shuffled the next day and released an unprecedented statement defending her time in the portfolio.
In that letter, posted on her website, she warned of the need for the role of attorney general to be free from “even the perception of political interference.”
That remark quickly prompted questions about to what she may have been alluding.
On Feb. 7, the Globe and Mail reported that Wilson-Raybould had been subject to pressure over her refusal to override the decision of the director of public prosecutions not to offer SNC-Lavalin a never-before-used tool to avoid having to go to trial and face potential conviction.
While Trudeau initially denied the report as “false,” he later changed his story to assert that jobs were at risk if the company were to be prosecuted and that the responsible thing to do was to raise those concerns with Wilson-Raybould.
He has refused to apologize and blamed the matter on differences in how Wilson-Raybould interpreted talks on the subject.
She resigned on Feb. 12, one day after Trudeau told reporters her continued presence in cabinet “speaks for itself.”
“I resigned the next day and I trust my resignation also speaks for itself,” Wilson-Raybould wrote in a package of her own, released on Friday, that she submitted to the justice committee after the Liberal members there shut down its probe of the matter and refused to invite her back to answer the challenges raised to her Feb. 27 testimony by Butts in his on March 6.