Former cabinet minister Jody Wilson-Raybould will be called before the House of Commons justice committee to address allegations she was pressured by the Prime Minister’s Office not to prosecute a Quebec engineering giant.
Opposition MPs are livid that no one from Justin Trudeau’s office has been called to answer for their alleged roles in the affair.
The committee hearings are to begin Wednesday but Wilson-Raybould likely won’t appear until Monday and it’s not clear she will be able to shed new light on the allegations that prompted her to resign her cabinet seat and Trudeau to lose his most trusted aide.
The Liberal-dominated committee rejected an opposition motion calling on the prime minister to waive solicitor-client privilege and allow Wilson-Raybould to finally speak freely on the allegations.
She stunned observers by attending a meeting Tuesday of the very cabinet from which she resigned a week ago. Trudeau said she had asked to speak there and was invited to do so but cabinet confidentiality meant nothing could be told about why or what was said. For her part, Wilson-Raybould continued to say nothing about the furor around her.
“I am still consulting with my legal counsel as I think people can appreciate, or should appreciate, the rules and laws around privilege, around confidentiality, around my responsibility as a member of Parliament,” she said as she exited the meeting.
“My ethical and professional responsibilities as a lawyer are layered and incredibly complicated so I am still working with my lawyer.”
Shortly after Wilson-Raybould met cabinet, one of the Liberal members of the justice committee, who had last week rejected calling the former minister to testify, announced that she would propose a motion at committee to hear from her after all.
New Democrat justice critic Murray Rankin said it appears that Wilson-Raybould and the government have reached some sort of internal resolution to the affair that will allow her to remain in the Liberal caucus and testify to the committee without saying anything damaging to the government.
The committee will also hear from Privy Council clerk Michael Wernick, current Justice Minister David Lametti, and deputy justice minister Nathalie Drouin, along with a number of academics who can discuss the legal principles underpinning the allegations.
Gerald Butts, Trudeau’s long-time friend who resigned his post as principal secretary on Monday despite saying he had done nothing wrong, will not be called, nor will anyone else from Trudeau’s office.
“The coverup continues,” said Conservative MP Pierre Paul-Hus after the closed-door committee meeting.
Deputy Conservative leader Lisa Raitt said the committee hearings won’t be meaningful unless solicitor-client privilege between Wilson-Raybould and the government is waived and, at a minimum, Butts can be questioned on his blanket assertion that he did nothing wrong.
Rankin called the committee’s decision “a travesty.”
“There will be nobody from the Prime Minister’s Office at this,” he said. “When she comes, she could quite properly say I suppose, based on legal advice, that I can tell you nothing because of solicitor-client privilege.”
Wilson-Raybould has hired former Supreme Court justice Thomas Cromwell to advise her on what she can say publicly about allegations made by an anonymous source to the Globe and Mail. The newspaper reported she was pressured to help SNC-Lavalin avoid a criminal prosecution on bribery and corruption charges related to government contracts in Libya.
Wilson-Raybould was the justice minister for more than three years, until she was moved in January to veterans affairs. Opposition parties maintain she was demoted because she wouldn’t instruct the director of public prosecutions to negotiate a remediation agreement with SNC-Lavalin, rather than pursue a criminal conviction that could see the company barred from bidding on public contracts for 10 years.
Trudeau has acknowledged there were conversations with her about the case, but that he told her the decision was hers to make, and she was not being directed to do anything.
She confirmed Tuesday she is still a member of the Liberal caucus and sat with the Liberals in the front row of their side in the House of Commons.
MPs began the day debating an NDP motion calling for a public inquiry into the affair and calling on Trudeau to waive the solicitor-client privilege.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said Canada cannot claim to be a country based on the rule of law if the Prime Minister’s Office is dictating the course of justice.
“The prime minister has kept (Wilson-Raybould) silent in order to protect himself,” Scheer alleged.
In question period, Trudeau faced a barrage of questions from the opposition demanding he let Wilson-Raybould speak, and accusing him of sexism for giving his side of the story while simultaneously muzzling her by refusing to wave privilege.
Trudeau said his government consistently stands up for the rule of law and the independence of the justice system and he is awaiting advice from Lametti on how to proceed on the question of privilege.
“In the matter of solicitor-client privilege, the member opposite must know that there are real dangers of unintended consequences, particularly on the two court cases currently wending their way through the courts,” Trudeau said.
At the same time, Conservatives in the Senate are seeking to bring the allegations before the Senate legal affairs committee, which would hear from at least 10 witnesses including Trudeau, Wilson-Raybould, Butts, Trudeau’s chief of staff Katie Telford, Lametti, Wernick, and several other senior advisers in the Prime Minister’s Office.
Conservative Senate leader Larry Smith brought the motion for the study Tuesday but was denied the chance to immediately debate it. It could come up for debate Wednesday but a Senate official said given the schedule it is most likely not to be heard now until Thursday.
Story by Joan Bryden and Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press