ROBERT FIFEOTTAWA BUREAU CHIEFSTEVEN CHASE
Jody Wilson-Raybould says the SNC-Lavalin affair has served as a “wake up call” for many Canadians and inspired her to push to reform Canada’s democratic institutions and increase respect for the rule of law and prosecutorial independence.
In a thank-you letter to constituents of Vancouver Granville, the former attorney-general expressed her disappointment at politicians who have dismissed her refusal to grant a deferred prosecution for SNC-Lavaln as a failure to understand this is is how politics is done.
The Liberal MP said she wants an opportunity to offer more details on the efforts by Prime Minster Justin Trudeau and other senior officials to press her to help the Montreal engineering and construction giant avoid a criminal trial.
On Wednesday, Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s fellow Liberal MPs on the Justice committee voted down an attempt by the opposition parties to recall her for further testimony about political interference in a criminal prosecution.
“Recent events have been a wake-up call for many across the country. These matters are still unfolding, and further clarity and information is needed,” Ms. Wilson-Raybould said in her letter released Thursday evening. She was renominated as the Liberal candidate for the Vancouver riding on Monday evening.
“As in other places around the globe, our democratic institutions and norms – including the rule of law and prosecutorial independence – are under pressure. Collectively, and as individuals, we are challenged to respond.”
The Globe and Mail reported on Feb. 7 that Ms. Wilson-Raybould rejected repeated attempts by Mr. Trudeau and senior officials, including the Clerk of the Privy Council, Michael Wernick, to override the decision of the the director of Public Prosecution, Kathleen Roussel, and negotiate a deferred prosecution agreement with SNC-Lavalin.
The Quebec multinational is facing fraud and bribery charges relating to millions of dollars it paid public officials in Libya to obtain contracts. A conviction could result in a ban of up to 10 years on federal contracts.
The Prime Minister and Mr. Wernick raised concerns about possible job losses and political ramifications in Quebec in conversations with Ms. Wilson-Raybould but denied she was subjected to inappropriate pressure. Mr. Wernick called the actions “lawful advocacy.”
Since the Feb. 7 Globe report, Ms. Wilson-Raybould resigned from cabinet and Mr. Trudeau’s principal secretary, Gerald Butts, stepped down. Jane Philpott resigned a key position as president of the Treasury Board, saying she lacked confidence in the Prime Minister for the way he has handled the SNC-Lavalin matter.
Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion has launched an inquiry and the House Justice committee held hearings in which it heard from Ms. Wilson-Raybould, Mr. Butts and Mr. Wernick.
Ms. Wilson-Raybould testified that she faced constant and sustained pressure from September to late December to abandoned the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin. In January she was demoted to Veterans Affairs and replaced at Justice by Montreal MP David Lametti, who has not ruled out giving the company a deferred prosecution.
Ms. Wilson-Raybould condemned politicians and commentators who have dismissed the pressure campaign on behalf of the Quebec multinational firm as “simply the way things are done.”
“This old, cynical view is wrong. We need never resign ourselves to the excuse that ‘this is just the way things are done,'” she wrote. “Our country is one built on a belief that we can, and must, continually do better. We will never be perfect, but we must always be striving to strengthen the foundations of diversity, inclusion, equality, and justice. When we are not doing that, we have truly lost our way.”
Ms. Wilson-Raybould said Canadians from coast to coast have inspired her to continue to seek to do politics differently, one of the key promises Mr. Trudeau made to Canadians during the 2015 election campaign,.
A former regional chief of the B.C. Assembly of First Nations, Ms. Wilson-Raybould was a star candidate recruited by the Liberals along with Ms. Philpott, a medical doctor who has done missionary medical work in Africa.
“I found myself in a situation I never expected to be in. I was just doing my job, and I did not expect it to become a national focus,” she said. “But you were paying attention – and with good reason – because this matter is serious, and some questions remain unanswered. And – importantly – your responses have motivated and intensified courageous action about doing politics differently.”
Ms. Wilson-Raybould wrote that she has received over 10,000 e-mails, texts, phone calls, cards and letters from around the country expressing a desire for transformative change.
“You are the true leaders who reject the increasing culture of conflict, empty partisanship, and cynical games that are far too common,” she said.
“Beyond partisanship, spin, and image, there lies a politics of change that is driven forward by galvanizing our core values – regardless of political stripe – into concrete laws, policies and actions that support Canada as an ever-advancing society.”
The Justice committee will meet again Tuesday – the day of the federal budget – to decide whether it will call further witnesses, but Liberal MP Francis Drouin has said there is no need to hear again from Ms. Wilson-Raybould.
Ms. Wilson-Raybould has said she has more to say about the matter, particularly the time period between her demotion in early January and her resignation from cabinet on Feb. 11.
In a statement last week, she said she wants the Prime Minister to give her another waiver from solicitor-client privilege and cabinet confidentiality to talk about the period after she was attorney-general, including conversations she had with Mr. Trudeau.
Opposition MPs have warned the Liberals risk damaging Canada’s international reputation by refusing to allow Ms. Wilson-Raybould another opportunity to speak.
The Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) has warned it is monitoring the Canadian government to ensure it lives up to its obligations under its anti-bribery convention to safeguard judicial independence in the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin.
Drago Kos, who heads the Working Group on Bribery, told The Globe Monday that the decision to prosecute SNC-Lavalin should be left to federal prosecutors and that potential job losses should not be a consideration in granting a deferred prosecution.